By MICHAEL RAMOS, San Bernardino County District Attorney
Published: June 4, 2014
As a District Attorney, I know the importance of keeping kids in classrooms now, so they don’t end up in the courtroom later. Without a quality education, too many young people end up on the streets and in trouble. Instead of being prepared for an honest job, many turn to crime.
This is why I am troubled by California’s dropout crisis. More than one in five California youth are not graduating on time, if at all. When these students don’t graduate, they become far more likely to end up the victims or perpetrators of crime. Research confirms what I have seen first-hand: high school dropouts are three and a half times more likely to be arrested and eight times more likely to end up in jail than high school graduates. Research demonstrates that if we were to raise graduation rates in California by just ten percentage points, we would see a twenty percent decrease in homicides and aggravated assaults statewide. Here in San Bernardino County, that would mean 23 fewer murders and 1,231 fewer aggravated assaults each year. This is why it is critical that we take steps now to provide children with the preparation necessary to succeed in school, so that today’s youth don’t become tomorrow’s criminals.
A critical step we can take right now is to invest in high-quality preschool programs for at-risk youth. Teaching youngsters their colors, numbers, ABCs and how to wait in line and get along with others better prepares them for the serious academic learning that takes place in elementary school and beyond. Researchers have found that high-quality preschool boosts high school graduation rates by as much as 44 percent, and cuts crime and incarceration rates substantially. One randomized study found that children who did not attend a quality preschool were five times more likely to become chronic lawbreakers by the time they were 27 years old, compared to similar children who did attend a quality preschool. These programs make economic sense too: every dollar invested in quality early education can yield as much as $16 in total returns.
Despite the many social and economic benefits of quality preschool programs, funding for these programs has faced significant cuts in recent years. Since 2009, California has cut $171.2 million in preschool funding, resulting in the loss of over 20,000 preschool slots statewide, including over 1,800 here in San Bernardino County. These ongoing cuts have made it hard for low-income families to access quality preschool education. State- and federally-funded preschool programs reach fewer than half of eligible low-income 3- and 4-year-olds in California. In San Bernardino County, these programs reach even fewer eligible low-income children – only one out of every four. We must reverse this trend and reinvest in quality preschool programs, or else pay a far greater price down the road.
Unfortunately, this year’s proposed state budget does not restore any of the millions lost in preschool funding. While Governor Brown does focus on directing K-12 funding to those children most in need through his proposed Local Control Funding Formula, we can’t effectively close the achievement gap and boost graduation rates unless children have the early education necessary to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. High-quality preschool must be part of any comprehensive strategy to improve our educational system.
While the state faces difficult spending decisions, investments in preschool will prepare students to succeed in school and graduate, thus saving money and lives down the road. I encourage the Governor and California legislature to consider the critical role that investments in quality preschool programs will play in the strength of our economy and the safety of our communities.
Click here to read the original article published in the Redlands Daily Facts.