JACKSON TWP. — With perimeter cameras peering down and razor wire piled high behind them, advocates pushed Thursday for an increase in state funding for early childhood education, repeating the well-documented evidence that money spent on pre-school can pay huge dividends later in life by — among other things — keeping them from growing up into criminals.
“It is budget season and our hope is that access to state funded high quality pre-K will again be a priority,” Bruce Clash began a media conference near the double fencing of State Correctional Institute — Dallas
The Pennsylvania state director of “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids,” Clash stood flanked by nine area police department chiefs, Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, state Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, and several other dignitaries.
They had gathered outside the imposing double-fence of SCI-Dallas to unveil a new report titled “Law Enforcement Agrees: High Quality Pre-K is Crime Prevention.” The report updates data backing a long-standing contention that investing in publicly-funded early education helps avoid more costly interventions later in life.
Studies have followed children for decades after getting into high quality pre-K, Salavantis said, and “the results are remarkable: Better performance in school, less special education, fewer high school drop outs and ultimately fewer crimes committed and a reduction in the number of prisoners.”
Statewide, about 56 percent of those eligible for publicly-funded pre school — about 98,000 children — “lack access because of limited funding,” she said. In Luzerne County the rate is worse, where 64 percent — 2,939 — of eligible children lack access.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is pushing for approval of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to increase spending for pre-K by $50 million in the 2019-20 state budget. $40 million would expand the state’s Pre-K Counts program, while the other $10 million would get more children into the federal Head Start program.
“Years of experience have taught us we can’t simply arrest, prosecute and incarcerate our way out of the crime problems that currently plague our communities,” Hanover Township Police Chief Albert Walker said. “ We must be proactive, and implement strategies that keep people from turning to crime in the first place. And education must be a focal point of that strategy.”
Ingrid Everett, an education professor at Bloomsburg University, talked of the rapid development of the brain in the first three years, but also cited an instance where a mother was inspired by the support her child received and decided to go to college and get her degree.
“It’s much greater than investing in the child. You’re actually investing in the whole community when you support early education.”
Gesturing toward the prison behind him, Wetzel noted 40 percent of the people who walk through the door this year “do not have a high school diploma.
“An intervention much earlier in their lives changes their trajectory.”
Wetzel quoted escaped slave and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
State Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel joins advocates outside SCI-Dallas in pushing for more state funding for early education programs. He and others pointed to a new study showing such investments can reduce crime and prison populations. ‘We know the path,’ Wetzler said, ‘We just have to walk it.’
Luzerne County District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis talks of the need for more state money to fund pre-kindergarten classes that research shows, can increase graduate rates and reduce crime and prison populations.