Click here to view the report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
Law enforcement leaders unveiled a new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Thursday calling on state and federal lawmakers to support high-quality early education programs as a critical strategy to reduce crime, lower corrections costs and save taxpayers money.
The report emphasized that early care and education must be of high quality to ensure solid, long-term results.
Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady, Lincoln Assistant Chief Bryan Jackson and Chief Deputy Patrick Condon of the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office signaled their support for early learning during a visit to an early learning classroom at CEDARS Northbridge Early Childhood Development Center. The leaders cited research showing that investments in high-quality early care and education can dramatically reduce crime and save money over the long term. The law enforcement leaders called on Gov. Dave Heineman (R), state and federal policymakers to support efforts to strengthen the quality of early childhood services and to work to ensure that more young children have access to this critical range of services.
“Investing in the quality of early care and education costs pennies to the dollar of what we have to spend on the huge costs of crime and incarceration,” said Director Casady, who oversees the management of police, emergency communications, fire and rescue operations in Lincoln. “As Lincoln’s director of public safety, I hope Nebraska’s leaders will look at the opportunity we have to prevent crime and save money by ensuring that our children have access to high-quality early care and education.”
A long-term study of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan tracked disadvantaged children who attended high-quality preschool and a randomized control group of similar children left out. Over the course of nearly 40 years of follow-up, researchers found at age 27, those who had not been in the project were already five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers with five or more arrests. By age 40, those who did not attend the program were two times more likely to become chronic offenders with more than 10 arrests and 50 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes. A cost-benefit analysis found that the Perry program returned to society an average of over $180,000 per child and provided a potential of $16 in benefits for every $1 invested.
The leaders also noted that Nebraska is currently spending far more to incarcerate prisoners than to provide early education to young children. In Nebraska, taxpayers spend more than $220 million a year on corrections. In contrast, the state spent only a fraction as much — $55 million — on early childhood education in 2010. Nebraska also receives $37.3 million in federal funding for Head Start and $58.8 million through the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
Currently, 37 percent of Nebraska’s 4-year-olds and 17 percent of 3-year-olds attend pre-kindergarten or Head Start. Sites supported by the Sixpence initiative serve an additional 388 at-risk infants and toddlers. Nationally, the unmet need for these programs is enormous; with less than 30 percent of eligible children participating in Head Start and only one in six receiving child care assistance.
“Many of us in law enforcement believe that it’s much easier to teach a boy than turn around a broken man. Early prevention and education are powerful tools in our fight against crime, beginning with early learning opportunities for young children,” Assistant Chief Jackson said. “Research shows that quality of early care and education is the critical ingredient for making sure we get the best return on investment, better outcomes for kids and for our communities.”
Over the last decade, many states have made significant progress in providing at-risk children with access to high-quality early care and education through state-funded pre-kindergarten and other early childhood development opportunities. Currently, however, only six state pre-k programs nationwide meet all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research, leaving room to improve key programs in most states. Nebraska’s early childhood education program meets six of these quality benchmarks. Nationwide, Head Start is also in the process of improving the quality of its programs.
“As a prosecutor, I believe that many of the young people we see in court would fare much better with a diploma. Helping kids succeed with help from early childhood education steers them away from trouble and toward productive lives,” Chief Deputy Condon said. “We know about the importance of highly-skilled teachers, strong curriculum and accountability for these programs. That’s why we are here to back up the findings of this report and extend our support for quality early care and education."
According to data cited in the report, there are over 131,000 children under age 5 in Nebraska. In Nebraska, 75 percent of children under 6 have all available parents in the workforce. There are an estimated 60,000 young Nebraskans at risk of failing in school. The quality of the experience children have in child care or pre-kindergarten, and the caliber of the professionals who staff those programs, have an important influence on helping children start school with appropriate learning and social development skills.
The report makes the case that these investments will help build a strong state early childhood development and learning system for all Nebraska’s children. According to research from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a Quality Rating and Improvement System for Nebraska would increase the accountability of participating early education programs requiring them to meet benchmarks for quality services.
The most recent renewal of the Head Start Act, enacted in 2007, focused on improving the quality and accountability of the federally-funded early childhood Head Start and Early Head Start programs by increasing teacher qualification standards and setting aside 40 percent of new funding specifically for the purpose of improving quality. Another recent improvement requires lower-performing local Head Start grantees to “re-compete” for federal funding—that is to re-apply on a competitive basis with other providers, instead of receiving an automatic grant renewal.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a national anti-crime organization of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors with 76 in Nebraska and over 5,000 members nationwide.