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Monday, Oct 21 2013 11:00 PM

How to save a kid from later going to prison

By The Bakersfield Californian

Study after study backs up the theory that participation in early childhood education programs can make a profound difference in children's lives. Pre-K schooling has even been shown to have a positive impact in the quest to keep young men out of prison.

Pre-K programs have been springing up all over the country amid a recent groundswell of support for funding and promoting early children education. Most recently, five district attorneys in Pennsylvania, representing both major parties, came together to ask for a $75 billion increase over 10 years for national preschool programs. Their plea was part of an effort by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit anticrime organization that has held similar events in 16 other states as part of a national campaign.

We're listening to voices like those here in Kern County. On Monday the Bakersfield City School District held the grand opening of the new Rafer Johnson State pre-K school, a facility that aims to promptly enroll 80 preschool children ages 3 and 4 years old.It's part of a state-funded program to give kids some of the tools they'll need for early and lasting success.

Rafer Johnson is the 13th site for such programs run through the BCSD.

State and federally funded early learning programs can cut potential prison populations by 13,000 each year at an annual savings of $1.1 billion, according to a law enforcement recent study.

The social science on the connection between the pre-K education and prison avoidance is strong. Many of the challenges facing the U.S. -- school dropout rates, health-care costs, crime and global competitiveness -- can also be helped by implementing child development programs from birth.

Research demonstrates that an achievement gap appears long before children reach kindergarten --as early as age nine months, in fact. At-risk children who don't get high-quality early childhood education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to skip college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, according to the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund.

Prof. James Heckman, a Nobel laureate in economics from the University of Chicago, says the more at-risk the child, the greater the likely improvement from pre-K schooling.

Early interventions for disadvantaged children "raise the quality of the workforce, enhance the productivity of schools and reduce crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency," he writes at heckmanequation.org. "They raise earnings and promote social attachment."

In a county like Kern, with one of the highest teen birth rates in the state, as well as difficult challenges with dropout rates and low educational attainment, those words resound.

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