Bucks County Herald

Bucks law enforcement leaders support quality pre-K programs

Bucks County law enforcement leaders who are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids have released a new report, “Pre-K Key to Cutting Pennsylvania Prison Costs and Boosting School Success.”

Issued May 4, the report explains how the proposed $40 million state funding increase for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs can boost high-school graduation rates, reduce the number of people who are incarcerated in Pennsylvania, and eventually lead to nearly $150 million in corrections and other cost savings for the Commonwealth every year.

Participating were Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub; Central Bucks Regional Police Department Captain Robert Milligan; Bucks County Sheriff Milton Warrell; Bucks County Director of Corrections Chris Pirolli; Supervisor of Bucks County Community Corrections Centers Kevin Rousset; Laurie Ruffing, principal of the Walt Disney Elementary School in Levittown; Nicole Fetherman of LifeSpan School & Day Care in Quakertown; and members of the Bucks County state legislative delegation.

The law enforcement leaders and educators urged state lawmakers to prioritize a $40 million expansion for high-quality pre-kindergarten programs as part of the 2018-19 state budget to provide access for about 4,400 more eligible children. Currently, about 106,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-olds in Pennsylvania (almost 3,500 in Bucks County) lack access to high-quality pre-K every year. The report documents that by the time at-risk children get to kindergarten, many are already behind in vocabulary development and pre-literacy and pre-math skills. They can also have problems with behavior and impulse control.

The report cites state and national research studies showing that quality early learning programs have been proven to reduce these disadvantages, resulting in fewer behavior problems, better school outcomes, increased high school graduation rates, and ultimately less criminal activity.

“In Pennsylvania, nearly 40 percent of incoming state prisoners have not graduated high school,” Weintraub said. “Nationwide that figure climbs to 60 percent. We need our youth to be educated, not incarcerated, and that process starts early.”

The report cites an independent cost-benefit analysis of more than 20 different studies of pre-kindergarten programs showing that pre-k can return, on average, a “profit” (economic benefits minus costs) to society of more than $34,000 for every child served, or nearly $150 million over the lifetime of the 4,400 additional children that would be served in the proposed pre-K expansion.

These economic benefits accrue largely to the reductions in the cost of future crime and increases in participants’ future wages, as well as decreases in other costs to society, such as children being held back in school receiving special education.

Pennsylvania state and local governments spend about $3.2 billion per year incarcerating adults (about $43,000 per state prison inmate), Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Pennsylvania State Director Bruce Clash said.

The Fight Crime: Invest In Kids report introduced the results of a new DOC background survey of more than 500 incoming state inmates that was administered in January.

According to survey results, difficulty reading in elementary school was a substantial indicator of future early criminal behavior.

Of those inmates that experienced this difficulty, 50 percent were arrested as a juvenile compared to 44 percent who said they did not have early reading difficulty. Significantly, 38 percent of those with reading difficulty were placed in a residential juvenile justice program while only 30 percent of those without reading difficulty were placed in a residential juvenile justice program.

The report also emphasized that Pennsylvania’s high-quality pre-K programs partner with parents to help them improve their children’s academic and behavioral outcomes through ongoing family engagement.

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