A Message to Our President: Build Preschools, Not Prisons

Family Matters on 11.06.12
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Photo: US Embassy, Manila, Philippines/Creative Commons

We already know that preschool increases children's chances of success, and even reduces the risk of drug addiction or prison time later in life. But we often absorb such statistics by thinking about what they mean for our own families. 

Shouldn't we also think about what they mean for society at large?

Whoever is declared the winner in today's Presidential election, the chances are good that there will be ongoing rancorous debate about the correct role and appropriate size of government in our lives. Yet there is one thing conservatives and liberals alike should agree on - when government does intervene in our lives, it should do so efficiently and effectively.

Given what we know about preschools, wouldn't it make sense to shift some of our tax dollars in that direction? After all, investing in smart, effective early education builds a capable workforce, reduces negative health impacts like addiction, and reduces the need for government spending on prisons and the criminal justice system.

Now whether we do it through traditional, government investment in the education system, or whether we do it through innovative ways to empower the private sector, is truthfully not something I care all that much about in principle. What I care about is results. We must fund preschools for everybody, especially lower income communities where such services would provide the most benefit. And we must encourage preschools to be preschools, not schools, letting children learn the basics through play and exploration, not learning-by-rote instruction. 

I'll close my argument with a nod to a great post over at Philly.com by Jill Michal and Ann O'Brien Scmieg of United Way, who argue that early education is the best crime deterrent:

This investment pays dividends for all of us in the long run. For every dollar invested in quality early-childhood education today, the return is up to $17 back into the community in saved special-education costs, lower crime rates, increased earnings, and taxes paid. And as our children become productive members of the region's workforce, they will reinvest back into our communities.There is a part for each of us to play in setting the next generation on the path to prosperity. Whether we give of our time, talent, or treasure, our investment strengthens the future of our entire region.

 Let's hope our President, whoever he may turn out to be, is listening. 

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