Sunbury Daily Item: Op-ed: Pre-k changes lives, saves millions of dollars
June 4, 2018 by Thomas McGinley

My father was chief of police in Centralia. Every day, when my brothers and I left the house, he would say, “What you do out there is a direct reflection on me.” We didn’t have a lot of financial stability, but we had guidance, and that was priceless.

We were lucky, especially because people who lacked similar guidance walk into state prisons every day. It was never my intent to establish a career in corrections, but after my first years as a corrections counselor, I realized I wanted to immerse myself in helping people achieve a positive course. I came to understand that the majority of inmates lacked the one thing I was blessed with — a nuclear family, and someone to teach the basics of leading a good life.

If you make bad decisions, you’re going to have a bad life. Good decisions, good life. It’s critical to capture people while they’re young to encourage good decision-making while focusing on sound, fundamental principles. A strong sense of self helps guide young men and women to make the positive choices that lead away from the roadblocks to success, like teen pregnancies, having multiple children outside of marriage, choosing negative associates, and failing to focus on educational opportunities.

It’s also imperative to learn the value of hard work while understanding that instant gratification is only temporary. Too often, I talk to inmates who don’t understand that their need for immediate reward of some sort is what landed them in their current predicament.

If we can instill positive values in children through early childhood education, that is a huge step forward. It’s a way to break the cycle that brings inmates here, because generations of problems tend to create generations of more problems. Pennsylvania incarcerates 47,000 inmates in state prisons, and we spend $43,000 a year on each one. That money is an investment in public safety and in turn works to return those individuals to our communities as productive citizens. In contrast, we spend about $8,500 a year per child, for much bigger returns.

High-quality pre-k delivers many benefits that help guide at-risk children in the right direction. Solid research shows that children from high-quality pre-k are more likely to be ready for school, not experience grade retention and graduate from high school. They are less likely to be arrested or incarcerated.

A survey of all incoming male inmates in early 2018 found that those who were suspended in elementary school had higher school dropout rates and were more likely to have been placed in a residential juvenile justice program compared to inmates who had not been suspended.

High-quality pre-k programs instill the basics of reading and math, so children aren’t already behind by the time they enter school. Just as importantly, they teach impulse control and getting along with others. They also partner with parents to teach the importance of reinforcing positive behaviors and reading together. The results add up to starting children off on the right foot, equipped to make good decisions and overcome challenges.

Read the full op-ed here.