Law enforcement leaders: Early childhood education reduces crime

By Julia Bruck - bioemail

JEFFERSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Sheriffs, prosecutors and teachers; it's not a combination you expect to see working together. But recently, law enforcement leaders called on Illinois lawmakers to early childhood learning programs top priority.

For years law enforcement has fought crime by locking criminals behind bars. Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch says for some it's become a family affair.

"We have second and third generations of family in my jail right now," Sheriff Mulch said.

But Mulch, along with hundreds of other law enforcement leaders from across the state, want to help break that cycle. The group is called FIGHT CRIME: Invest in Kids. A recent report by the group shows investment in high-quality early learning programs helps to reduce crime.

"The statistics show with that with that Pre-K influence it actually lowers the special education needs for kids later on and if you can lower that, there's a direct correlation between that and crime," Mulch said.

On this day some 20 students learn their ABC's in Kristen Rollie's Pre-K classroom. Rollie says such foundation skills are needed for students, when it comes to later success in school.

"When they get to kindergarten they are expected to know all of their alphabet," Rollie said. "They need to know how to write their names. They need to know so much stuff that, you know, sometimes they might be able to get at home."

But Illinois's budget problems leaves many wondering how many Pre-K classrooms will be around for another year in Jefferson County.

Jefferson and Hamilton County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bryan Cross says the state is $400,000 behind in payments. He adds, with fear of budget cuts in Springfield, the grant process is now more competitive when it comes to which programs will get state dollars.

"In the past it's been 50 percent at-risk, now it's going to be 80 percent," Cross said. "The program we have, it serves rural Jefferson County outside the city of Mount Vernon so there's not that many at-risk children."

Cross says administrators are working to put the best plan forward to continue serving as many students as possible.  But Cross adds the biggest factor is the state's budget and funding levels for early childhood programs.

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