Law enforcement leaders call for pre-kindergarten funding
Washington County law enforcement leaders gathered on Monday to make a pitch for new funding and investment — not in jails, police cars or officers, but in early childhood education.
Washington County District Attorney Bob Hermann, District Attorney-elect Kevin Barton and Beaverton Police Chief Jim Monger were on hand May 21 to speak in favor of a nationwide initiative called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, consisting of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors who argue that investment in pre-kindergarten, Head Start and other early childhood education programs are proven methods to reduce crime. The organization includes more than 140 people in Oregon.
"This is really where it's at in terms of getting to the kids early," said Hermann, who retires this year after more than two decades in office. "It goes a long way toward getting them past some hurdles in their lives, which can lead to crime. Getting pre-K (to all youths) needs to be the focal point of any crime-prevention strategy."
The setting was Beaverton's newly rebuilt Vose Elementary School. Principal Veronica Galvan said the school serves 650 students, with an estimated 80 percent on free- or reduced-price lunch — a federal benchmark for the percentage of low-income families in a neighborhood — and 65 percent speaking a language other than English at home.
Vose holds two pre-kindergarten classes per day, in the morning and afternoon, serving 18 children each and including a meal. During the day, the pre-kindergarten students learn how to interact, how to study, how to help each other and how to sit and listen to a teacher.
"The difference is amazing," Galvan said. "This program is literally saving a year for the kindergarten teachers. They get these students (from the pre-kindergarten program) who've learned how to learn."
Megan Irwin, administrator of early childhood education for Beaverton School District, praised the program but said it's a drop in the bucket. The district now serves an estimated 200 pre-kindergarten students in five schools; but that's out of a population of an estimated 5,500 students districtwide. Another 300 students have access to Head Start, she said. "So it's a pretty small percentage."
Barton, who takes the office in January after winning a hotly contested race for district attorney in last week's election, said the organization is urging state and federal elected officials to fully fund early childhood education. He didn't offer a dollar figure. He said an estimated 21,000 Oregon students, ages 4 to 5, were without any pre-kindergarten or Head Start programs in 2016. "We call on Congress to continue to invest in these programs for every child," he said.
Barton also called on pay equity for pre-kindergarten teachers.