By Bruce Clash, Pennsylvania State Director, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids
There is no doubt that high-quality pre-kindergarten programs prepare young children for school and contribute to their social and emotional development. But investment in high-quality pre-k pays dividends far beyond readiness for a kindergarten classroom. High-quality early learning programs can return as much as $17 in savings for every $1 invested over the long term.
Pennsylvania’s police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys know from experience and from research that at-risk kids who get the right start in life with high-quality pre-k are less likely to commit crime, drop out of high school or be a drain on taxpayers later on.
Law enforcement leaders know we can’t just arrest and imprison our way out of the crime problem. We have to prevent kids from ever becoming criminals in the first place. One of the most effective ways to reduce crime in our communities begins with investment in our youngest citizens. Nearly 70 percent of America’s state prison inmates fail to receive a high school diploma – roughly equal to the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania who do not have access to the critical high-quality pre-k programs that will help them be better prepared for school and reinforce socially acceptable behaviors.  Research shows that high-quality pre-k jump starts the learning process for children, ensuring they enter school ready to learn, have a much better chance of completing high school, and go on to become productive members of society.
Unfortunately, public funding for access to high-quality pre-k in Pennsylvania only provides this critical opportunity to fewer than 20 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds.   Law enforcement leaders view this inadequate access as a crime prevention gap that compromises the futures of at-risk children and leaves every Pennsylvanian at needless risk of becoming a victim of crime.  We can pay now to provide at-risk kids a solid chance to succeed, or pay a whole lot more for failure later on.
Pennsylvania needs to be as willing to guarantee every child access to high-quality pre-k programs as we are willing to guarantee every criminal room and board in a jail cell.