Hennepin County Sheriff, Attorney release report on early care, education for at-risk youth

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and County Attorney Michael Freeman unveiled a new report from “Fight Crime: Invest In Kids” recently, calling on state and federal lawmakers to support high-quality early education programs as a critical strategy to reduce crime, lower corrections costs and save taxpayers money.

The report emphasized that early care and education must be of high quality to ensure solid, long-term results.

“When it comes to making sure Minnesota’s kids get a great start, we cannot and should not skimp on early care and education,” Sheriff Stanek said. “Quality is absolutely the key factor for getting the best results. If we give early care and education the proper support, we’ll have fewer dropouts, less crime and safer communities, and the investment will pay off many times over.”

A long-term study of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Mich., tracked disadvantaged children who attended high-quality preschool and a randomized control group of similar children left out. Over the course of nearly 40 years of follow-up, researchers found at age 27, those who had not been in the project were already five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers with five or more arrests.

By age 40, those who did not attend the program were two times more likely to become chronic offenders with more than 10 arrests and 50 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes. A cost-benefit analysis found that the Perry program returned to society an average of over $180,000 per child and provided a potential of $16 in benefits for every $1 invested.

Sheriff Stanek and County Attorney Freeman also noted that Minnesota is currently spending far more to incarcerate prisoners than to provide early education to young children. In Minnesota, taxpayers spend more than $480 million a year on corrections. By contrast, Minnesota spends $108 million on early care and education for young children, and receives $203 million in federal grants for Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grants.

Minnesota’s School Readiness Program provides pre-kindergarten education through community organizations, school districts and subcontracted charter schools. Currently, six percent of Minnesota’s 3-year-olds and 10 percent of 4-year-olds attend pre-kindergarten or Head Start. Nationally, the unmet need for these programs is enormous; with less than 30 percent of eligible children participating in Head Start and only one in six receiving child care assistance.

Over the last decade, the report noted, many states have made significant progress in providing at-risk children with access to high-quality early care and education through state-funded pre-kindergarten and other early childhood development opportunities. Currently, however, only six state pre-k programs nationwide meet all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research, leaving room to improve key programs in most states. The Minnesota pre-k program meets nine of these quality benchmarks. Nationwide, Head Start is also in the process of improving the quality of its programs.

Sheriff Stanek and County Attorney Freeman called on all members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation to support efforts to strengthen the quality of early childhood programs and to work to ensure that more children have access to these services. Recognizing that Congress must take actions to set priorities and reduce the deficit, law enforcement leaders urged policymakers to protect—and when possible to increase—funding for high-quality early care and education.