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Invest in High-Quality Pre-K to Save on Prison Spending


July 10, 2018
John Booth
The Delaware County Daily Times

Children learn to trust their environments through a process that happens at a very young age. In a healthy family, parents or caretakers put time and energy into their children. They make sure their children are safe, and provide needed limits, direction, affection and attention. These adults shape things so children can grow up trusting the environment and the people around them.

For many people who land in jail, trust is a very big issue. They may have grown up in environments that were unpredictable, chaotic, and perhaps abusive. The stress of such an upbringing can interfere with the development of trust and with a child’s performance in school. Simply surviving the unpredictability and trauma takes up the child’s attention and energy. A lack of support or dysfunction at home often has a negative impact on school performance, and may result in behavioral or emotional difficulties that complicate the educational process. The possibility of suspensions, expulsions and dropout tend to increase. This process may eventually feed people into the criminal justice system.

Early intervention in the form of quality kindergarten and Pre-K services helps compensate for instability at home, providing children with needed support, boundaries, positive attention and healthy routine. If children interact with competent and caring adults in a safe school setting, they have another opportunity to form the capacity to trust and can concentrate on learning instead of just surviving.

Pennsylvania state correctional institutions house 47,000 inmates. Each one costs $43,000 a year. That is five times the cost of preschool, and yet, early investments yield much bigger returns in cost savings and in human potential fulfilled.

High-quality pre-k is structured around research-based elements proven to deliver benefits. The classroom is enriching, and most importantly, teachers are trained in encouraging play and interactions that spark the young brain into building the neural connections that create pathways for lifelong learning and social progress.

Decades of scientific studies prove the benefits. Children from high-quality pre-k are likelier to be ready for school, not need or need less special education, not be held back a grade, and graduate from high school. They are less likely to be arrested or incarcerated.