Observer-Reporter: Editorial: Education Funding is Crime Fighting, Too

Debate in Harrisburg will soon begin in earnest to adopt a state budget for fiscal year 2015-16, and education funding will be front and center.

Among the proposals being sought by Gov. Tom Wolf is increased funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, an initiative that recently attracted outspoken support from some unusual kindergarten bedfellows: The law enforcement community.

District Attorneys Risa Ferman, Montgomery County; Seth Williams, Philadelphia; Jack Whelan, Delaware County; and Tom Hogan, Chester County, held a press conference April 29 to introduce a report, “We’re the Guys You Pay Later,” by the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids coalition. The report makes the case that more money is spent on jailing adult defendants than on investing in education for children. That early investment can be shown, the report argues, to change the path for at-risk children from potential criminals to productive members of society.

Looking to early education to prevent crime is gaining traction nationwide. According to the report, children who participated in high-quality preschool and parent coaching programs through Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers were found to be 20 percent less likely to be arrested or incarcerated for a felony as young adults than those who did not attend.

The benefits are evident on families as well as the enrolled children, the report states. The Chicago CPC program cut child abuse and neglect in half for the children served, compared to similar children from families not being helped.

In place since 1989, state Pre-K Counts funding has made possible early education slots for 160 children in profit and nonprofit childcare centers who have partnered with the district to ensure quality instruction, qualified teachers and a seamless integration with the district’s curriculum, PEAK Coordinator Mary Reick told Pennsylvania first lady Francis Wolf during a recent visit.
A recent grant from the Kellogg Foundation is also allowing PEAK to reach out to families as early as when children are born and to help with their needs as parents during Literacy Nights and other outreach efforts.

The study emphasizes the importance of getting to children early in life with learning opportunities. Studies have shown that in homes where parents are poor or uneducated, the vocabulary to which children are exposed differs by as much as 30 million words from the vocabulary in a home of educated, professional parents. Early education works to close some of that gap.

Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget calls for increasing funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts by $100 million, which will double the commonwealth’s current annual investment of $97.3 million.

Read the full editorial here.