Monday, March 28, 2011

Police chief supports full funding for early childhood education

Picture this: The police chief of one of the state's major cities authors an opinion-editorial in favor of full funding for early childhood education, citing research that demonstrates the positive impact of early intervention on young children's behavior.

Is this the police chief of Columbia, you ask? Charleston? Greenville? Maybe Florence? Or Rock Hill?

No, it's Chief Tom Bergamine of Fayetteville, North Carolina, writing in the Fayetteville Observer last week.

As a police chief, I'd like to add that law enforcement leaders strongly support high-quality early education programs as a way to help fight crime.

Setting children on the right path early in life is far less expensive and much more effective than dealing with individuals who turn to crime as adults. Many offenders could have led much more productive lives if they completed their basic education; consider that almost 70 percent of state prison inmates don't have a high school diploma. Providing at-risk children with high-quality early education can help increase graduation rates and also reduce crime.

From a 2009 combined report on North Carolina and South Carolina: Studies on Smart Start have demonstrated its positive impact on young children's behavior. Low-income children who were not enrolled in early childhood education centers with North Carolina's Smart Start quality improvement assistance demonstrated significantly more behavioral problems than children who were enrolled.

Specifically, children not enrolled in Smart Start programs were twice as likely to have behavior problems such as aggressive acts and poor temper control, anxiety and hyperactivity in kindergarten. Research shows that 60 percent of children with high levels of disruptive, aggressive behaviors in early childhood will manifest high levels of antisocial and delinquent behavior later in life. Smart Start has been able to significantly increase the quality of the care being provided by licensed child care providers.

North Carolina has become a leader in providing children with access to early childhood programs, but now there are proposals to eliminate our two top early education programs, Smart Start and More at Four. I hope that state lawmakers make the right choice by protecting these initiatives and supporting efforts to strengthen them. Educating the youngest children is a priority for ensuring our public safety for years to come.

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