Report calls on state to protect early education funding

03.27.2012 | San Bernardino County Sun | Mike Cruz

A report released Tuesday by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California says protecting early-education funding in the state could be a long-term solution to keeping children in school, reducing crime and saving money.

The news comes as California grapples with difficult budget choices and may propose significant cuts to its preschool and transitional kindergarten programs, which serve 3- and 4-year-old children across the state.

Those programs in San Bernardino County could face a $51.5 million cut, according to the group’s report.

Titled “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later,” the report cites studies in Chicago and Michigan, as well as data from similar programs in other states, showing that “high-quality programs provide solid evidence that preschool education is an effective way to get kids on the right path and avoid costly problems later.”

California will spend $7.8 billion in this fiscal year to feed, house and monitor criminals, while dedicating only a tenth of that – $784 million – to early-education programs.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, a member of Fight Crime’s executive committee, said in a teleconference Monday that the state already does a good job on the corrections side.

But early-education programs give children a foundation that is more likely to keep them in school over the long run and away from crime, he explained.

“I think we need to do a much better job on the front end, the preschool end,” Ramos said.

Ramos joined other law enforcement members in the San Francisco-based anti-crime group in calling for policymakers to do more to protect funding for early education programs statewide.

Melinda Meister teaches 3- and 4-year-olds at a state preschool at Lincoln Elementary School in San Bernardino City Unified School District. With 15 years experience, Meister sees first-hand the positive effects that early education programs have on kids.

“I have kids coming back to me to tell me that they’ve really appreciated what I gave them,” Meister said, now that those kids are going off to college and preparing for careers.

The students at her school are far more prepared for kindergarten and are more likely to find success there, Meister explained. Preschool involves a lot of learning while the children play, and it’s all positively reinforced.

“That’s our responsibility, to get our kids involved at an early age,” Meister said.

However, the proposed 2012-13 budget for California would cut $180 million from state preschools and would repeal a requirement for schools to provide transitional kindergarten for older 4-year- olds who miss the cut-off for kindergarten, according to Fight Crime.

Those cuts are above and beyond $70 million in cuts made last year, said Brian Lee, the group’s deputy state director.

“We simply cannot afford to shortchange early education,” Lee said.

In San Bernardino County, state preschool programs face a proposed $7.7 million cut, while transitional kindergarten could see a $43.8 million cut, the report states. Together, the two early-education programs here could be slashed by $51.5 million.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California is composed of 400 law-enforcement leaders, including sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys, and crime victims.

According to the report, research shows that high-quality preschool programs can significantly reduce felony arrests and incarceration rates and return $10 or more in savings for every dollar invested, with more than half of that savings coming through lower prison and crime-related costs.

The two studies cited by the report, a two-decade-long study of Chicago Child-Parent Centers and the Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Mich., were published in the research journal Science.

In the Chicago study, children who were not in high- quality early-education programs were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony by age 26. They were also 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail by the same age.

“High-quality early education is a vital component in restoring California’s fiscal integrity,” the report concludes. “Difficult decisions about spending must be made, but spending on early education is an investment in the future and can help reduce future costs – in stark contrast to the too-often limited returns from back-end spending on corrections, probation and parole.”

Contact Mike via email or by phone at 909-386-3880.

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