There’s nothing more important to us than keeping the people of Maine safe. It’s the guiding principle and heart of what we in the law enforcement community do.

That’s why we take a strong interest when we see a tool that can keep our state safe and help folks avoid getting involved in crime. In this case, that tool is making sure children have the resources they need to succeed – and we are calling on state lawmakers to invest adequately in high-quality early childhood education.

Quality early education is a powerful crime-prevention tool, one that has been proven to keep communities safe and put kids on the right path in life. But it’s up to our state to put it in place and ensure these programs are available to Mainers – especially to the kids and families who benefit from them most.

Fortunately, Maine just elected new leaders in November who have the opportunity to prioritize this important tool. We have a new governor, new legislators and new officials at important state agencies who can help champion quality early learning as a crime-fighting tool.

Our new leaders should understand very clearly that high-quality early childhood education, including programs like pre-kindergarten and Head Start, contribute to a reduction in crime. Take it from a sheriff and a chief of police, whose job it is to think about how to make law enforcement more effective: High-quality early care and education build public safety.

Research supports what law enforcement already knows to be true. Studies show that kids who participate in high-quality early learning programs are more likely to stay in school, graduate from high school on time and avoid a life of crime. That’s important when you consider that six in 10 inmates in state prisons across the United States don’t have a high school diploma. In Maine, 54 percent of prisoners have received less than a high school education.

That’s why we support expanding high-quality early childhood education in Maine. Experience and peer-reviewed studies show that we can make our state a safer place to live and a place where more kids can be successful.

Studies also show that kids who are exposed to high-quality early learning have a head start in math and literacy skills, start kindergarten more ready to learn and exhibit fewer behavior problems. These programs also help children develop the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in the classroom, and in life. What’s more, access to quality early learning programs helps young parents participate in the workforce. This, in turn, can help Maine bolster its workforce.

On the campaign trail, candidates for office across the state talked about their ideas for combating many of the thorny issues that law enforcement deals with, like opioids, domestic violence and more. These candidates understood that improving Maine’s ability to fight these problems in our communities begins with making high-quality early childhood education more accessible to the communities who would benefit from it most. We need to make sure that all of Maine’s incoming legislators and members of the governor’s administration deeply understand the effectiveness of investing in our kids in the earliest years.

We strongly support making Head Start and pre-kindergarten funding a serious priority in Augusta. These investments will pay huge dividends in the future, including fewer prison costs, and will make our state a place that helps ensure children go on to lead successful, productive, crime-free lives.

Taking action will make our communities a better place to live. All legislators in Augusta have at-risk kids in their districts – now they can make the choice to change the futures of coming generations.