West Chester Daily Local News: Police Chief: Investing in Pre-K Pays Off
May 17, 2019 by Scott Bohn, West Chester Chief of Police

I have seen a lot of trends come and go in my 33-year law enforcement career, 32 of which I’ve spent in West Chester.

One trend I’d like to see continue is Pennsylvania investing in evidence-based high-quality pre-kindergarten programs that make a positive difference in the lives of children, families and communities here and throughout the Commonwealth.

My job, and the job of our law enforcement officers, is to protect the community and put those who commit serious crimes behind bars. But with the state spending more than $2 billion a year to incarcerate inmates at roughly $43,000 each–which is three times as much that we spend on K-12 students and five times more than we spend on pre-k students– a better and less expensive way is to prevent as many children as possible from becoming involved in crime in the first place.

Certainly, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. High-quality pre-k programs have been demonstrated to reduce future rates of crime, cut the costs of special education and grade retention and increase students’ future wages. The benefits of society are estimated at a “profit” of up to $27,000 for every child served. Applying these cost savings to the 5,500 additional low-income 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 the 2019-20 state budget could result in almost $150 million in societal benefits in Pennsylvania throughout these preschoolers’ lifetimes.

In order to stop pumping increasing amounts of money into incarceration, we need to put more resources up front where we can see a positive impact for our communities–even if it is in the long run.

Investing in high-quality pre-k is an example of one of the partnerships that is so critically important in preventing crime and unwanted behavior in our communities. A strong parental component, which high-quality pre-k can strengthen, is also key. Early education provides an essential foundation, especially for our disadvantaged youth, so that they do not fall behind, take the wrong path, or become victimized themselves.

We can’t afford to skimp on our children’s formational education, when they are learning to get along with others, respect authority, follow directions and form healthy relationships. When children are engaged in high-quality pre-k, our communities are stronger.

Pennsylvania taxpayers should look at the results we see in our communities from high-quality pre-k programs. It is clear that these dollars represent a smart return on our investment, and the Legislature should continue to prioritize these programs.

While we all know that “crime doesn’t pay,” Pennsylvania is increasingly paying for crime, over $3.2 billion annually on incarcerating adults at the local and state levels. Let’s make the shift from paying for crime to investing in our future and increase funding for pre-k today.

View the Letter to the Editor here.