Governor ties early childhood education to crime prevention
May 26, 2015 11:38 PM
This is not partisanship. This is simple good sense,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.
By Sam Janesch / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
CAMP HILL, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf stood outside a state prison near Harrisburg on Tuesday alongside several district attorneys to support increased funding for early childhood education.
Mr. Wolf, along with state Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and others, noted a report released from the organization “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” that says more pre-kindergarten programs would boost high school graduation rates and reduce the number of people in prison.
According to the report, the $120 million spending increase for early childhood education included in Mr. Wolf’s budget proposal would eventually save the state $350 million in prison spending each year. It would aid in the education of about 14,000 children, the governor said.
Mr. Wolf called the multimillion-dollar investment a “down payment” for pre-kindergarten education — the “first step” in the governor’s effort to fully fund early childhood education in four years. The governor’s office currently does not have an estimate of how much funding the effort would take in total, according to a spokesman for Mr. Wolf.
“This is not ideology. This is not partisanship. This is simple good sense,” Mr. Wolf said.
A spokesman for the governor said the administration has received letters of intent from early education providers to serve about 25,000 more children with the Pre-K Counts program and the Head Start State Supplemental program, which are the two initiatives the funding would support.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, a Republican, said he supported the theme of the “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” report: “We’re the guys you pay later,” he said.
“There are a lot of things that we disagree on in the area of criminal justice, but what’s important about these programs is this is a place where we agree.”
Other district attorneys in attendance included Edward Marsico of Dauphin County, Michael Piecuch of Snyder County and David Arnold of Lebanon County.
The focus on early childhood is important, said Bruce Clash, the Pennsylvania chapter director of “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids,” because ages 3 to 4 are when the most rapid brain development occurs. Those ages are also when children form many behaviors of how they behave with others and respect authority, he said.
According to the report, a study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers that include high-quality preschool and parent coaching programs found that the participating children were 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or incarcerated as young adults.
Mr. Wetzel said there might not be data that shows the local program’s effectiveness for 15 to 20 years, but state officials are relying on this national data.
Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Republicans are on board with supporting education but they are concerned about where the money is coming from and decisions will have to be made about whether tax increases should make that happen.
“Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” is a national organization conducting similar media campaigns in other states. Seth Williams, district attorney of Philadelphia, is a board member of the national organization, which has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Grable Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, among other philanthropies.
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