District attorneys call for more pre-K education

Posted: October 18, 2013

CHESTER Standing in front of SCI-Chester, a state prison in which half of the inmates likely do not have a high school diploma, four prosecutors Wednesday urged funding for early childhood education, saying it is a "pay now or pay later" situation.

District Attorneys Thomas Hogan of Chester County, John J. Whelan of Delaware County, Risa Vetri Ferman of Montgomery County, and Seth Williams of Philadelphia came together to ask for a $75 billion increase over 10 years for national preschool programs. They were joined by David J. Freed, the president of the state's District Attorney Association and the Cumberland County district attorney.

The news conference was held by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit anticrime organization that was holding similar events in 16 other states as part of a national campaign.

"The research is very clear that we can be doing much more to ensure that young people never get to this point," said Bruce R. Clash, the state director of Fight Crime.

The group released a report - "I'm the Guy You Pay Later" - that said investing in high-quality pre-K education can put at-risk children on track to long-term academic success and also lower crime, said Clash.

"If you set kids on the right path early in their lives, they have a better chance of staying on it," said Ferman. She said children without the needed social and academic skills are more likely to wind up in prison.

"Invest money now in our kids," she said.

Williams called Clash's group "unexpected messengers" and said prosecutors were also committed to preventing crime.

The state prison was "a temple and a testament to what a failure to invest in education will get you," said Williams, pointing to the razor-wire-edged building.

The state spends $1.9 billion to house 500,000 criminals, said Whelan. About $45 million of the $330 million Delaware County budget is devoted to running the jail. "It is important to fight crime," said Whelan. "It is also important to be proactive in fighting crime, to come up with programs and initiatives that prevent crime from happening."

"No child is destined from birth to end up in jail," said Hogan. "We would all much rather see kids in graduation gowns and caps than handcuffs and prison jumpsuits."

Hogan said 80 percent of those in law enforcement - and 70 percent of the general population - believe that increased-quality early education is a priority, but only 17 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds have access to fully funded pre-K education in the state.

The state spends $87 million on Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, programs that serve about 11,930 3- and 4-year-olds. The Head Start Supplement Assistance Program spends about $39 million and serves 4,705 children, according to Clash.

"We are the people who are paid later when you do not invest in early childhood education," said Williams.


mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111

@MariSchaefer

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