Lancaster County Prosecutor: Pay Now for Pre-K or Pay Later for Crime
DA joins Sen. Judy Schwank, Rep. Bryan Cutler at regional legislative breakfast focused on the case for expanding Pre-k quickly to thousands of at-risk kids in Berks, Lancaster Counties
Lancaster, PA (May 4, 2016) – Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman joined local United Way leaders and education advocates as part of a regional Pre-K for PA legislative breakfast today with Senator Judy Schwank and Representative Bryan Cutler to call for a serious investment in pre-k as leaders in Harrisburg launch budget negotiations.
The discussion focused on the need to increase state funding and research documenting the impact of high-quality early childhood programs on educational and life outcomes for at-risk children and specifically the resulting crime reduction. District Attorney Stedman documented how a state funding increase for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs could boost high school graduation rates, reduce the number of people who are incarcerated in Pennsylvania and lead to more than $350 million annually in Corrections and other cost savings to society over the lifetimes of the children served. Currently, Pennsylvania spends more than $2 billion annually¾about seven percent of the state budget¾to house about 50,000 inmates.
“The issue here boils down to dollars and sense – as in common sense. Incarceration costs our state $2.2 billion dollars a year – about 7 percent of our entire state budget – and is about 11 times more than we spend on pre-k,” said District Attorney Stedman, a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. “And that doesn’t count what we’re spending for the Lancaster County or the rest of the local jails across the state. While we’re never going to eliminate the need for law enforcement and corrections, we have to take every step we can to reduce crime. Starting early is a common sense way to accomplish this goal.”
The 2016-17 budget proposal includes $120 million in additional funding over two years for high-quality pre-k, which includes the $30 million in new funding already enacted for the second half of the current school year. If realized, Pennsylvania’s investment will rise to $197.284 million in Pre-K Counts and $59.178 million in the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program in FY 2016-17.
“In an atmosphere where a lot of people don’t agree with each other, the one thing that we all agree on is the importance of pre-k,” said Senator Judith Schwank, D-Berks. “It’s an investment that can make a world of difference. When the Secretary of Corrections says, ‘Give us more money for pre-k and you’ll cut my costs,’ I think that’s a message we should not ignore.”
Across Pennsylvania, there are more than 175,000 3- and 4-year-olds who are at-risk because they are in lower income households—70 percent of these at-risk young learners – more than 120,000 children statewide – had no access to publicly funded pre-k last year.
“Far too many of Central PA’s youngest learners don’t yet have access to high-quality pre-k education,” said State Representative Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster. “We need to ensure that all of our children are able to begin kindergarten on the right foot. We need to reduce that learning gap that we so often see in our schools. We owe it to our children to offer them the best chances at success, for our future as well as theirs.”
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO, Joan Benso outlined the enormous need for investment, particularly when it comes to the high percentage of at-risk kids with no access to pre-k. Benso outlined troubling statistics regarding the lack of availability of high-quality pre-k for children at greatest risk of academic failure due to conditions or circumstances beyond their control.
“Even with a $90 million increase in state pre-k funding for fiscal 2016-17, Pennsylvania would still have more than 107,000 – or about 61 percent – of at-risk preschool children without access to high-quality pre-k,” said Benso. “This is why Pennsylvania needs to step up its funding for pre-k not just in the coming year, but over the next several fiscal years. Every year we fail to step up is another year of missed opportunities for far too many children.”
Lancaster County has more than 9,200 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds, and a staggering 83 percent of them – about 7,700 children – lacked access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k last year. Berks County has more than 6,300 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds, and about three-fourths of them – 4,800 children – also lacked access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k last year.
Pre-K for PA is an issue campaign supported by individuals and organizations across Pennsylvania who believe that investing in our children is the right choice and an urgent necessity. Its vision is that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. Pre-K for PA does not endorse or oppose candidates, but rather advocates on behalf of this vision for Pennsylvania’s children, schools and communities. For more information visit www.prekforpa.org.
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