Fight crime; support pre-K: Early education pays off big in reduced crime and better lives

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As law enforcement leaders, we feel a strong sense of pride when we see students on track for academic success and a deep sense of sadness for those who lose their way. With that in mind, we congratulate Gov. Tom Corbett for his proposal to bring quality early-learning opportunities to thousands more of Pennsylvania's "at-risk" kids.

Studies have shown that giving kids the right start in life is the best way to support long-term academic success and prevent violence and crime. According to a new report by the organization Fight Crime; Invest in Kids that's entitled "A Better Way: A Safe and Successful Future for More African-American Children in Pittsburgh," a University of Pittsburgh study of children who participated in the Pre-K Counts Public-Private Partnership program found that the number of 3-year-olds with conduct or self-control problems dropped by over 80 percent from the time of entry to program completion. This is important because research shows that 60 percent of children with high levels of disruptive, aggressive behavior in early childhood will display high levels of antisocial and delinquent behavior later in life.

The report also cites longitudinal studies of high-quality programs in Ypsilanti, Mich., and Chicago, Ill., that showed participating kids were far more likely to graduate from high school and far less likely to be arrested later in their lives. It also showed that quality early education provides nearly $11 in societal benefits for every dollar invested, based on lower costs for crime and corrections and other factors, which is crucial during these tight fiscal times. This analysis suggests that if Pennsylvania's African-American children increased their graduation rate by 9 percent -- which is what happened to the kids who participated in the Chicago program -- we would have 1,500 more African-American high school graduates every year.

All of this bodes well for kids throughout our state in the wake of Gov. Corbett's proposal for a $4.5 million increase in state funding for Pre-K Counts, a $1.9 million increase for Head Start, a $7.1 million increase to reduce Pennsylvania's child-care waiting list and a $3 million increase to his Rising STARS initiative to increase the number of at-risk children who have access to high-quality early care and education.

The proposal wisely invests these additional resources toward early learning programs that bear several key quality factors. These include a combination of highly skilled teachers, comprehensive curricula, strong family involvement and referral services for developmental, health or behavior problems. These characteristics are hallmarks of the programs in Michigan and Illinois, both of which saved public dollars based on factors such as lowered costs of crime and corrections and fewer participants becoming reliant on public assistance.

The governor's early-learning proposal will now be subject to legislative debates. We urge our state legislators to uphold these funding increases and pass a final budget that takes this important step to reduce the high level of unmet need for quality early care and education in Pennsylvania.

We either pay now or pay much more later. Pennsylvania now spends $2.2 billion per year to house, feed and provide 24-hour supervision for its criminals, and only a sliver of that -- $340 million -- on early education. Although the state provides several pre-K options, only 18 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-K programs. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, only 68 percent of our high school students graduate on time.

Investing in quality early education is one of the best things we can do, right now, to get Pittsburgh's youngsters on track for academic success and productive lives.

opinion_commentary

Maurita Bryant is assistant chief of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau. John Dixon is chief of police in Petersburgh, Va. Both are representatives of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.


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