Local law enforcement, state lawmakers and education leaders gathered yesterday to stress the importance of early childhood education in Illinois.
Sean Noble, senior policy associate for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, organized yesterday’s meeting at Walnut Court Early Years Program. He says about 20,000 children between 3 and 4 years old have lost access to state-supported preschools because of budget cuts.
“Research over and over shows that early childhood education helps put kids on the path to success in school and also to graduate from high school at a higher rate than they would otherwise and to be able to stay out of criminal trouble, out of jail and prison as adults,” says Noble. “One out of five dollars that we were spending on early childhood education as recently as 2009 have disappeared.”
There are at least 250 Morgan County kids between 3 and 4 years old whose families can’t afford to pay for such high-quality preschool help on their own.
Pointing to evidence that preschool prevents future violent crimes and saves taxpayer dollars, Jacksonville State Representative C. D. Davidsmeyer says education has to be a priority in Illinois.
“I would say that this brings up a great discussion about spending those dollars earlier so we can save the down the line,” says Davidsmeyer. “I’d rather spend them in the classroom than have to spend them in the prison.”
Morgan County Sheriff Randy Duvendack says he sees the influence of early childhood education firsthand.
“It really gets them off to a good start,” says Duvendack. “Hopefully, they get set in a good pattern. They learn to go to school, they like going to school, they make good friends, they learn social skills and, hopefully, down the road we won’t be seeing them in our squad cars, prisons and jails.”
Michigan’s Perry Preschool study tracked at-risk children who attended the program and similar children who did not. By age 27, non-participants were five times more likely to have been arrested for drug felonies and twice as likely as former preschool students to have been arrested for violent crimes.
State Senator Sam McCann, Jacksonville Police Chief Tony Grootens and South Jacksonville Police Chief Richard Evans were also at yesterday’s event.