Delaware County Daily Times: Pre-K programs create better citizens, advocates say

September 29, 2016 by Kevin Tustin

Clifton Heights >> The need for pre-kindergarten programs in relation to the criminal justice system was the focus of a roundtable discussion Thursday morning.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan and state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield, met with leaders of Today’s Child Learning Center in Clifton Heights and local and state pre-K advocates to reinforce why access to these high-quality, public early education programs in the state are needed to create better citizens.

As a way of being proactive in fighting recidivism, Whelan said district attorneys are looking at the defectiveness of an incarcerated person’s educational background to deter young people from getting involved in the penal system.

“If given the opportunity that we can address these needs at the pre-K level, the expectation would be that they would not be at the point in life that they’re at when they are in the state system,” said Whelan. “If we can start from the back end looking from the front end and being able to reduce people getting involved in crime, education is a big part of that.”

The state currently spends about $2.6 billion on its corrections system for 50,000 inmates, many of whom Whelan noted have no formal education, if a high school diploma.

“It’s critically important. It’s labor intensive, it is cost intensive, but the payout over the long-term I think more than amply makes up for what it is we’re trying to fund now,” said President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey Jim Cawley.

Compared to the $50,000 the state spends per incarcerated person, pre-K programs are reported to return a profit of nearly $30,000 to the community for every child served by way of saving on student retention costs, special education costs and, ultimately, incarceration costs.

Funding has increased for pre-K programs in the state under Gov. Tom Wolf, jumping $120 million in two years for Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental.

The boost in money has allowed Today’s Child to add 40 students this year alone to their highest-rated program in four locations, many of whom are in the Colwyn center.

Erinn Rinn, community relations coordinator for Today’s Child, gave feedback on the benefits that the Pre-K Counts program has been afforded to students.

“We talk with the kindergarten teachers and those teachers tell us themselves that the children who come from our programs are ready and more ready for the children who are not in this program and they succeed later on, K-through-12,” said Rinn.

Teachers at Today’s Child have degrees in early childhood education.

The state’s guidelines and mandates for selecting students for prioritizing applicants includes income levels, single-parent households, English as a second learning and even health.

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