LANSING- A home built on a crumbling foundation is sure to fall.
And lawmakers should follow the same philosophy when dealing with the development of children, says K.P. Pelleran, director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Michigan.
Nearly 95 percent of a child’s brain develops by age 5, so it’s vital that the Legislature consider the impact of early childhood education instead of “balancing the budget on the backs of babies,” Pelleran said.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Michigan is a nonprofit anti-crime organization composed of 350 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and other law enforcement leaders.
Endeavors such as the 0-3 Secondary Prevention Initiative, which provides grants to programs focused on improving school readiness and parent/child interaction, and the Great Parents, Great Start Continuation Grants that fund programs to educate parents on child development, could fall victim to $200 million in cuts to funding.
Instead of boasting about the number of criminals he locks up each year, Lapeer County Prosecuter Byron Konschuh said it is more logical to fight crime by setting children on the right path during crucial developmental years.
“It makes long-term sense,” Konschuh said. “We won’t see it in a year or two, but in 10 to 15 years we may see an increase in crime. Statistically, people who do well in school are more likely to be law-abiding citizens.”
Pelleran said continuing to support early education could prevent youngsters from turning to lives of crime and potentially shave Michigan’s $2 billion-a-year incarceration expenses by $500 million annually.
“Kids who have access to these programs are less likely to fail a class,” Pelleran said. “They will normally have higher salaries and they become part of the tax base instead of the tax burden. We’re going to pay now or later, but it’s a whole lot cheaper early.”
Senate Education Committee Chair Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, said school districts will have to be more creative with donations to maintain early childhood programs.
“My hope would be that school districts would figure out ways to integrate private foundation money and corporate money into early childhood education programs at the local level,” he said.
The percentage of Michigan’s 70,000 inmates who received quality instruction in their formative years is “miniscule,” said Elizabeth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.
A study that followed 123 poverty-stricken African-American children in Ypsilanti from ages 3 and 4 to 40 found that students who didn’t enroll in a preschool program were five times more likely to be chronic lawbreakers by age 27 than those who did.
By age 40, those who didn’t participate were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes, four times more likely to be arrested for drug felonies and 85 percent more likely to have been sent to prison or jail.
Many youths in the juvenile system lacked the necessary support early on that could’ve aided their “ethical and mental development,” Arnovits said.
Early childhood education “provides kids with a step up on the learning process and identifies disabilities and learning problems,” Arnovits said. “The majority of the children are below the level they should be at. A sizable proportion has a learning disability, and if you don’t catch them, it can be a lifelong problem.”
Many students who drop out of school and commit crimes come from broken homes where parents aren’t around, said Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, a member of the House Education Committee.
Students may struggle because the school setting “is the only normalcy they will see,” Sheltrown said. “They’re significantly behind. If we get to them early, we can have great success.”
Pelleran said supporting early childhood education has become a moral issue.
“Our members know we can’t build more prisons to solve the problem of crime,” Pelleran said. “These kids don’t have a high-priced lobbyist in Lansing. What does that say about us as a society?”