Guest Column by Debbie Campbell of Lewis County WA in The Daily Chronicle
The Lewis County community is resilient. We work together to lift each other up when we face challenges. In our positions, we see people every day facing significant challenges — from poverty and homelessness to multi-generational incarceration. It’s our goal to get ahead of these issues.
The United Way of Lewis County has established a goal we all support: lifting 30 percent of our county’s families out of poverty by 2030, in large part through early childcare and learning opportunities. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national coalition in which Sheriff Snaza is a part, fights for quality early childhood education to increase graduation rates as a proven strategy to reduce crime.
We know, from personal and professional experience, that the availability of quality early learning has lasting impacts on our children. Kids with access to quality early learning are better prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate high school, access good paying jobs, and have better-developed life skills like motivation and self-discipline. They are also far less likely to end up in our jails or prisons down the line. One of the best ways to keep young people from struggling with poverty or criminal activity is to give them the foundation for success in the earliest years.
This is why we support House Bill 2661 — The Fair Start for Kids Act.
The Fair Start for Kids Act expands access to childcare and pre-school programs in our community for more hard-working families. Early childcare and learning opportunities are critical building blocks for our kids’ success. Unfortunately, the cost and availability of childcare and pre-school are significant barriers for too many families in Lewis County.
The United Way’s recent research shows that in Lewis County 14 percent of residents live below the poverty level, but an additional 33 percent live just above the poverty threshold and do not currently qualify for state funded childcare or preschool help. In an expensive state like Washington, those hard-working families — restaurant servers, clerks, and childcare providers — are struggling to make ends meet. Over 13,000 households are having to make tough choices between quality childcare, transportation, healthcare, and feeding their families. Childcare and preschool are the largest expense for a family of four, often more than a mortgage or rent.
The Fair Start for Kids Act expands the current eligibility for families to access more help with quality childcare and early education.
This legislation also helps us reach our goals of reducing poverty and criminal activity. Children who lack access to those early education opportunities tend to struggle with later academic success, secure employment, and overall well-being. Two longitudinal studies of quality preschool programs followed children for nearly 40 years. In one study, children who did not attend a quality preschool were five times more likely to be chronic offenders by age 27. In the other study, those who did not receive quality preschool were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.
The prohibitive cost and availability of childcare and pre-school doesn’t just hurt children and families. Our businesses also struggle to retain their workforce. When companies in our community, who offer living wage jobs, see their employees leave work due to lack of childcare options, it hits our economy.
In Washington, employers lost over $2 billion last year due to employee turnover related to childcare and pre-school struggles, and another $6 billion in opportunity costs. Lewis County can’t afford to lose those opportunities. Our families need good paying jobs, and our employers need reliable staff who are confident that their children are receiving quality care while they are working.
The choice is simple: Pay for quality early education programs now, or pay far more later for less effective interventions, incarceration, economic losses from businesses and ongoing cycles of poverty that have devastating impacts on human lives.
The Fair Start for Kids Act can steer thousands of children across Washington toward school success and more productive lives through high-quality early education. Join us in support of the Fair Start for Kids Act.
Debbie Campbell is the Executive Director of the United Way of Lewis County whose mission is to connect people and resources to improve the quality of life in Lewis County.
Representative Richard DeBolt is the state representative for Washington’s 20th district.
Sheriff Robert Snaza is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national coalition of law enforcement professionals who aim to protect public safety by promoting solutions that steer kids away from crime.