Pre-kindergarten programs play an important role in preventing kids from committing crimes as adults, Attorneys General Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma and Hardy Myers of Oregon said today. Edmondson and Myers told their colleagues at the National Association of Attorneys General 2007 Spring Meeting that exhaustive research and their own experiences prove the impact pre-k has on crime prevention. They participated in a panel discussion with Amy Dawson of the national anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and Sara Watson, senior officer, State Policy Initiatives, with The Pew Charitable Trusts.
"Pre-k educates kids and starts them on a path toward productive, crime-free lives," Edmondson said. "There are few things more disheartening to law enforcement officials than having to arrest a juvenile. Pre-k keeps kids in school and out of our jails."
"Violent criminals belong behind bars, but let's not bar kids from the programs proven to get them the right start in life," Myers said. "As Attorney General, I've seen the positive difference pre-kindergarten can make in children's lives, and more kids need access to pre-k."
Edmondson and Myers, both members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said the evidence is clear in their states that pre-k works. Research shows that at-risk children left out of quality pre-k are five times more likely to grow up to become criminals by age 27 than similar children who attended pre-k. Quality pre-k can save $17 for every $1 invested, studies show. Yet due to inadequate funding, four out of five 4 year olds are denied state-funded pre-k.
Edmondson talked about Oklahoma's pre-k program, ranked first in the nation for the percentage of 4 year olds enrolled in publicly-funded pre-k programs. Edmondson said his state's pre-k program has been successful because the focus has been on quality. In every classroom, the head teacher must have a bachelor's degree, and there must be one teacher for every 10 kids.
Myers said unfortunately, several states are not up to par with Oklahoma, and 12 states still have no state-funded preschool programs. Myers and Edmondson urged their colleagues to advocate for programs proven to cut crime.
Dawson said that in response to a national poll, 66 percent of kindergarten teachers said children who attended pre-k are "substantially better prepared" to start and succeed in school. The poll also found that 86 percent of teachers said poorly prepared students in the classroom negatively affect the progress of all children.
"If we want our kids to get the most out of school, we need to make sure all families, especially those who can least afford it on their own, have access to high quality pre-k programs," Dawson said.
Watson said studies funded by Pew found that quality pre-k for all kids could contribute two percent to the gross domestic product and create 3 million new jobs.
"Leaders across the political spectrum are recognizing that high quality pre-k is a sound investment for their states and the nation," Watson said. "Over the past three years, states have invested over $1.2 billion in new money in pre-kindergarten because they have recognized that pre-k benefits kids and it benefits their communities."
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has more than 3,000 members who are sheriffs, police chiefs, prosecutors and survivors of violent crime.