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Study backs more preschool funding

Clark County officials say early efforts can reduce crime later.

A new study suggests if the same amount of money spent nationally to keep people incarcerated were spent on preschool education, the number people imprisoned could be cut by at least 10 percent.

In Ohio, 80 percent of those in jail or prison don’t have a high school diploma or G.E.D. The study, commissioned by Fight Crime: Invest in Ohio Kids for the National Early Childhood Campaign, cites that number could be much lower if more people participated in quality preschool programs.

The study was presented during a press conference at the Clark County Jail on Wednesday. Sheriff Gene Kelly said likely eight in 10 of his inmates have no high school education, and many of them are repeat offenders. As a member of the Fight Crime agency, which includes law enforcement and judicial officials nationwide, Kelly said he’d rather see federal and state dollars invested in education than building new prisons to house the growing number of people being incarcerated.

“In the next decade, as these kids go through their elementary and high school years, and they look forward to graduation, (I want them) to look forward to a job, not incarceration,” he said.

President Barack Obama proposed spending $75 billion over the next 10 years to improve preschool education nationwide. Such a measure would still have to be approved by Congress and implemented in each state. It’s the same amount of money the nation spends on corrections each year, according to the study. That investment could increase high school graduation rates by 2 million students and reduce the number of those incarcerated by 200,000 people annually. In Ohio, that would mean 5,000 fewer inmates and a savings of $158 million a year in jail and prison costs, according to the study.

If education starts early, with preschool programming, students are more likely to complete school and earn higher degrees that equate to higher pay. Statistically, those with more education are less likely to cause crime and end up in jail, said Cynthia Rees, the Fight Crime director.

However, preschool costs are too high for many families. In the U.S., the average annual cost is $9,076. It’s more affordable in Ohio, with an average cost of $4,586. Springfield Schools’ program at Clark Preschool costs $50 a month— one of the most affordable in the state according to Rees— and accommodates 400 preschool kids, ages 3-5. That amounts to less than half the number of kids who are preschool-aged in Springfield. The problem is too little funding and too little space for the kids, said Dr. David Estrop, district superintendent.

“It’s a whole lot cheaper to avoid incarceration … to invest in them when they are young,” Estrop said.

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