PennLive: OpEd: Investing in early childhood education reduces crime and saves taxpayer dollars
June 1, 2019 by Dauphin County Fran Chardo, District Attorney
At-risk children face so many challenges throughout their lives. One of the greatest accomplishments they can attain that dramatically reduces their likelihood of engaging in criminal activity is graduation from high school.
We can help start them on the right path to a high school diploma and give their parents some of the skills that they may not have learned in their own childhood by providing these children with access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs.
This access is not something that we here in Dauphin County or any single county can accomplish alone. Currently, we are only serving one-third of eligible high-risk children in the County. We can and must do more because this investment pays such tremendous dividends.
Quality pre-k programs return an average benefit to society of up to $27,000 for every child served. This is a measure of the benefits in both cutting crime and the cost of incarceration, reducing other costs such as special education and grade retention, and increasing participants’ future wages. Applying that research-based cost savings estimate to the 5,500 additional low-income Pennsylvanian children who would be served by the proposed $50 million funding increase for the Pre-K Counts and Head Start State Supplemental Assistance programs in 2019-2020 state budget, we could realize almost $150 million in societal benefits over their lifetimes.
Quite simply, increasing access to pre-k leads to more kids succeeding in school and saving taxpayer funds for years to come. When these preschoolers arrive in kindergarten and grade school classrooms, their teachers can focus more on teaching and less on classroom management because of fewer behavioral challenges.
Early intervention in the form of a high-quality pre-k program is a vital first step in providing a stable, nurturing environment for children living in adverse circumstances and developing strong parental support. If children lack early positive influences and see parents going to prison as “the way life is” rather than as a life-changing event, it can be easy for them to go down the same road.
I have spent my career serving our citizens through the criminal justice system. But I believe that we cannot arrest or prosecute our way out of the problems we face here in Dauphin County.
We need to use all resources at our disposal to give parents the tools they need to do the best job they can, while also investing in education to set our children up for a bright future to start a career, serve in the military or go college rather than facing the inside of a courtroom or a jail cell.
For these reasons, I believe that public investment in our youngest learners must be a continued budgetary priority. During this graduation season, let us turn our attention to the state budget and increase our investment in pre-k.
Read the oped here.