To the Editor:
Is early education worth the costs? As police chief, critical investments in quality early childhood programs merit the time in the spotlight they’ve enjoyed recently in Illinois and nationally because of the solid and compelling research showing a myriad of positive outcomes for individual children, and for society at large.
Let’s not forget, though, that our budget woes in Illinois have eliminated early learning opportunities for about 20,000 young children. Across the Chicago area, and in many other communities throughout Illinois, 3 and 4-year-old children are being turned away from state preschool programs.
That’s a self-defeating guarantee that too many kids will miss out on the help they need to enter kindergarten prepared for success in school and life. From the seat I occupy, it also means public safety and crime-prevention efforts will suffer substantially.
As a police chief, I know the path leading to crime and incarceration often begins in children’s earliest years, when they start school without basic skills – but with problematic behaviors that make it difficult to thrive inside and outside the classroom. When they fall behind, they too often stay there. Too many drop out of high school.
A high-quality early education, however, helps kids stay in school and out of trouble. Plenty of research demonstrates how that happens. Kids who have benefited from high-quality preschool are significantly more likely than nonparticipants to graduate, and far less likely to be arrested for a violent crime, become chronic offenders or land in prison.
I recently joined with over 150 law enforcement leaders who are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois in calling on the governor and General Assembly to protect and strengthen early learning efforts in the new state budget they’ll soon begin crafting. In the details of that emerging budget plan, we’ll see answers to the question, “How much do we value our children, and the safety and stability of our communities?”
Chief Tom Weitzel
Riverside Police Chief