D.A.s urge more spending on preschool

Posted: October 17, 2013

PHILADELPHIANS have grown accustomed to parents, students and teachers marching to demand adequate funding for education. Today, a group of Pennsylvania law-enforcement officials will have its own pro-education demonstration, of sorts.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and other D.A.s in the area are scheduled to gather outside the state prison in Chester to urge state and federal officials to expand preschool education.

Their demand: Spend money now on high-quality preschool or spend even more money later for prisons.

The district attorneys, members of the Pennsylvania chapter of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK), will issue a report called "I'm the Guy You Pay Later."

"There's a new paradigm of what it means to be an American prosecutor," Williams said yesterday.

It used to be, a prosecutor was all about building more jails and putting more people in those jails, he said.

"But what we've learned is that for every $100 invested in early childhood education, we can save $700 on prison costs," said Williams, an FCIK board member.

FCIK is a national organization that includes 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors. Its members say they support President Obama's proposal to spend $75 billion over a 10-year period to expand high-quality early childhood and preschool education.

The report calls the $75 billion plan "a smart move" when it now costs the nation $75 billion each year to jail more than 2 million people.

"By one estimate, this 10-year investment in preschool will produce over 2 million additional high school graduates nationwide, including 63,000 additional high school graduates in Pennsylvania," the report says.

The report says by investing in preschool, "Pennsylvania could decrease its prisoners by over 5,000 each year and save $195 million."

Williams said that in Family Court, "almost every one of those kids have been reported absent [from school] from about 80 percent of the school year."

"Preschool gets them ready to learn," Williams said. "If they aren't ready, when they get to school, they are already behind the eight ball, socially and academically."

Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said it's great that law-enforcement officials are speaking up for preschool.

But Cooper said the Philadelphia School District, faced with massive budget deficits ($1.1 billion through 2017), has 5,000 slots for the federal Head Start program, but cannot afford to fill those slots. The district contracted 2,000 spots out to private agencies.

In Philadelphia, 2,000 4-year-olds are on a waiting list for preschool, said Renee Queen-Jackson, who is in charge of early childhood education for the district.

Across the state, that number of 4-year-olds waiting for preschool is close to 10,000, said Stephen L. Doster, deputy state director for FCIK.

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

READ: Full FCIK report ( PDF)

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