STATE COLLEGE — Story time Tuesday at the St. Paul Christian Preschool and Childcare Center featured an unusual guest duo.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and State College Police Chief Tom King, in full uniform, teamed to read “Officer Buckle and Gloria,” a tale of a policeman and his trusty police dog.
But they weren’t there to boost literacy.
Both visited the State College preschool to promote early childhood education programs such as Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental as ways of helping at-risk children succeed academically and socially.
The Harrisburg office of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization comprising police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders, organized the meeting with preschool officials.
St. Paul holds Keystone STAR 4 status, the state’s highest preschool standard, and receives Pre-K Counts and other early education funding.
“It’s giving us the opportunity to provide children with early care and education that for some of their families they would have never been able to afford to do,” said preschool director Joan Stroemel. “It allows us the chance to give them a good start.”
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids state director Bruce Clash thanked Corman, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, for restoring Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 5 percent cuts to early education programs, thus keeping their funding level in the 2012-13 budget.
“We’re grateful for that leadership and his recognizing the importance of these programs,” Clash said.
Clash’s organization Tuesday released a report that says studies show early childhood education programs increase high school graduation rates, reduce crime, lower prison costs and save taxpayer money.
Pennsylvania, the report said, spends $1.86 billion annually on a fast-growing prison population. Far less goes to childhood education programs that reach about 18 percent of the state’s 3-and 4-year-olds.
“A lot of disadvantaged kids are not getting the kind of access to programs that they need to get a better start, and it’s going to end up costing us because of that,” Clash said.
King, a Fight Crime: Invest in Kids member, said supporting children early on makes sense, calling it a “long-term investment” that leads to better chances of graduating, prospering and avoiding prison. He asked Corman to work on persuading his colleagues and Corbett to increase the programs’ funding and broaden their reach.
“This is really a comprehensive crime-prevention approach,” King said.
Corman said he believes in the benefits of early childhood education, but that the state may only be able to maintain funding or increase it slightly.
“You’ve got to have it to invest it,” he said. “The state is going through a difficult time now. Obviously, there’s still a commitment to early childhood education, as we were able to goose the numbers back up last year.
“But until unemployment comes down and revenue comes back in a little bit better, we’ll be struggling just to continue to make ends meet.”
In the 2011-12 budget, Corbett’s first, Pre-K Counts and Head Start funding dropped — despite his campaign endorsement of early education. His proposed second budget included millions in cuts to pre-kindergarten programs.
Even so, Corman said he’s optimistic Corbett and legislators will recognize the programs’ value come budget time.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of convincing them,” he said. “It’s a matter of what the economic picture looks like. If it’s sufficient enough, I think there will be a strong committment.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews