If you want to keep kids off the street and out of trouble, offer an engaging after-school program.
That was the lesson promoted by Assemblyman Bill Monning, District Attorney Bob Lee and Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano during a tour of the after-school program at Cesar Chavez Middle School on Friday.
More than 200 children spend three hours each afternoon at the Pajaro Valley Unified School District campus, participating in such activities as riding bikes, developing computer games, learning about government, playing sports and cooking. Districtwide, the state and federally funded program serves about 5,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
But the three leaders said budgetary pressures in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. could put the after-school activities at risk.
"These programs protect our communities," said Lee. "They're actually public safety programs."
Lee said statistics show kids involved in after-school programs are more likely to graduate, and as graduation rate goes up, violent crime goes down. A 10 percent increase in the graduation rate drops murders and aggravated assaults 20 percent, he said. In California, that's 20,000 fewer aggravated assaults, he said.
"It's an upstream approach in preventing crime," Lee said, as opposed to the "downstream approach" of trying to figure out where to lock up people after a crime has been committed.
After-school activities also give children a safe haven during the hours of 3-6 p.m. when parents are working, homes are empty and juvenile crime goes up, said Monning.
"For three hours after school, people care about them," he said. "They get human attention."
While there are no specific proposals to cut funding for programs now, last year state legislators considered eliminating after-school support for 11- and 12-year-olds, just the group being served at Chavez, Monning said. Federal funding was on the table during the debate about the debt ceiling last summer.
Brian Lee of the nonprofit Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California said Proposition 49, championed by Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became governor and passed by voters in 2002, protects state after-school funding. But he said there have been past moves to place a repeal measure on the ballot. And existing programs only serve two-thirds of low-income schools in the state.