Miami-Dade law enforcement leaders say quality education pays off

Crime fighters release new report showing early education cuts crime, saves taxpayers dollars

New research findings published in the prestigious journal Science strengthen the argument that high-quality early education can reduce crime. A follow-up at age 28 of over 1,400 low-income children in Chicago found that those who did not attend the Child-Parent Center preschools were 27 percent more likely to have a felony arrest by age 26 and were 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail.

Unfortunately, funding for early care and education programs is at-risk as the federal government and states face severe budget deficits. Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program was cut significantly this year, reducing average spending per pupil and increasing the ratio of teachers to students. Law enforcement leaders are urging Florida Governor Rick Scott and state legislators to restore funding for early childhood care and education to improve quality and access.

Any reduction in federal funding for early care and education programs could cause even more children to lose access to quality child care and programs like Head Start. More than 600 law enforcement leaders and crime survivors from all 50 states signed a letter this spring urging Congress to maintain their support for early care and education programs.

As Congress and the Administration consider steps to keep the country solvent, law enforcement leaders are urging them to maintain flexibility to protect or even increase funding for vital programs such as high-quality early care and education. Some automatic budget mechanisms under discussion, such as spending caps, could make that impossible and have devastating effects on funding for these programs. Director Loftus and Chief Hernandez urged all members of the Florida Congressional Delegation, including Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to ensure that this does not happen.

“Early education is one of the first opportunities to work toward our crime prevention goals. Kids benefit from a strong introduction to learning, and we all benefit by making sure communities are safe in the future,” Chief Hernandez said.

Congress also has the opportunity to improve these programs through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other education initiatives that will help states to improve and increase access to high-quality early education. Law enforcement leaders are calling on Congress to support a shift from the current “K-12” system to a model that focuses on early education to high school graduation.

About FIGHT CRIME: INVEST IN KIDS: Director Loftus and Chief Hernandez are members of FIGHT CRIME: INVEST IN KIDS, the national anti-crime organization of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors with 97 in Florida and over 5,000 members nationwide.

About the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education: The Center is an innovative learning, teaching, and training initiative dedicated to elevating the quality of early care and education in Miami-Dade and beyond. The Center models proven best practices, and shares those practices with adult learners including parents, educators, and child care providers.

Miami law enforcement leaders today called on state and federal lawmakers to support funding for high-quality early education as a critical strategy to reduce crime, lower prison costs and save taxpayers money. They noted that Florida taxpayers spend more than $2 billion a year on corrections—a figure that could be reduced by offering more at-risk kids high-quality early education opportunities.

Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus and North Miami Beach Chief Rafael Hernandez signaled their support for early learning during a visit to the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education on Wednesday to read to children in the early learning program and discuss the value of early childhood education. They are members of the anti-crime organization FIGHT CRIME: INVEST IN KIDS, which sponsored the event as part of a nationwide law enforcement campaign promoting high-quality early childhood education.

The leaders released a new research report from FIGHT CRIME: INVEST IN KIDS called “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later” showing that high-quality early care and education can help at-risk children succeed and significantly reduce the likelihood that they will commit crimes. The report shows that this investment saves taxpayers on the back end from reduced corrections costs.

Despite some drops in local crime rates, Florida still spent $2.4 billion in 2010-11 on corrections with over 100,000 adults locked up in either state or federal prisons, as of the first day of 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Census Bureau, Florida’s corrections spending increased by 500 percent between 1982 and 2008.

“Law enforcement needs to use every tool possible to combat crime and keep our streets safe. Early learning initiatives can’t close an investigation or catch a fugitive, but we know the best way to fight crime is to nip it in the bud,” Director Loftus said. “High-quality early education for at-risk kids is one of the best uses of taxpayer dollars available and helps us make communities safer places to live, work and raise a family.”

The brief cited a long-term study of Michigan’s Perry Preschool, which found that at-risk children who did not participate in the high-quality program were five times more likely to be chronic offenders by age 27 than children who did attend. Because of their increased involvement in crime, the children who did not attend were 86 percent more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison by the age of 40.

Cutting funding for early childhood programs would be shortsighted and risky, the group said, since quality early care and education programs actually save money in the long run. The Perry Preschool Program cut crime, welfare and other costs so much that it saved taxpayers an average of $180,000 for every child served, with the vast majority of the public savings coming from reduced crime costs alone.