Steve Doster and Bruce Clash present a bleak picture of the future if more is not done to educate young children before they even enter kindergarten.
Children without access to pre-kindergarten programs are five times more likely to be criminals, Doster, the state director for Mission: Readiness, told attendees of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre Country’s breakfast Thursday at Celebration Hall.
Mission: Readiness is a nonpartisan national security organization of retired generals and admirals of the armed forces working to reverse the high percentage of American youth who are ineligible for military service.
Doster and Clash are advocates for the Pre-K for PA campaign, which was launched in January, and spoke about the benefits of providing children access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
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Clash, the state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a law enforcement organization of about 200 Pennsylvania police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys, told the group that the third largest cost of the commonwealth’s budget is state prison expenses.
“We must take serious measures before and not just after tragedies occur,” Clash said. “Any comprehensive approach to crime problems must include the investment to keep at-risk youth from heading down what funnels them to a life of crime in the first place.”
Doster also presented evidence that more people could be eligible to join the military with access to pre-kindergarten programs.
About 75 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible to join the military because they are morally, mentally or medically unqualified, he said.
Of the 84 percent of Pennsylvanians who earn a high school diploma on time, 22 percent do not score high enough on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, the military’s entrance exam, to join. Children are also less likely to be obese if they attend pre-kindergarten programs.
“Our organization speaks out not as a recruiting arm, because we aren’t trying to get pre-kindergarten kids into the military obviously, but we talk about the importance of pre-kindergarten program access because it’s our next generation,” Doster said.
Bill Frantz, the Benner Pike Wal-Mart manager and the chairman of the Centre Region Pre-K for PA campaign, kicked off the breakfast and said he often gets asked why a businessman is involved in campaigning for pre-kindergarten program access.
“The workforce and the people that come into our workforce, unfortunately, I do not feel that we are getting the best talent, and I feel if we invest in educating children at 3 and 4 (years old), that 15 to 16 years from now we’ll benefit greatly from that,” Frantz said.
The hurdle to making pre-kindergarten programs available to all Pennsylvanian children is funding and facilities.
State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said it wouldn’t be feasible for the school district to facilitate pre-kindergarten programs. The school district will invite the public to the preschool fair from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 10 in the State High South Building to learn about local preschool programs.
Fully subsidized pre-kindergarten program could cost about $1 billion nationally.
“There is bipartisan support there, public support, and we know it works, so let’s start investing in these pre-kindergarten programs for kids,” Doster said.