I take great pride in my role as one of the key community leaders responsible for providing public safety. That’s why I’m proud to stand by fellow law enforcement, retired military and business leaders who are urging the Pima County Board of Supervisors to give more young children the opportunity to experience high-quality preschool.
I say this as a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs who advocate for early learning initiatives that give kids the strong academic foundations they need to succeed in school and avoid contact with the criminal justice system.
We base our advocacy on sound science. A child’s brain develops fastest in the early years, with more than one million neural connections formed every second. That’s one reason reading to children is so important. It’s also why nurturing and stimulating preschool settings are so effective in developing the pre-literacy and pre-math skills children need for long-term academic success.
Children from poor families often don’t have the same opportunities. Their parents often work multiple jobs with low wages, leaving little time to engage in reading and other activities which build school readiness. Without the extra learning support offered in a high-quality preschool, these children are more apt to fall behind as they begin kindergarten. As coursework becomes more challenging they struggle to keep up, resulting in too many kids dropping out and failing to fulfill their potential.
Pima County’s situation is particularly stark. Recently, research from the United Way and Lecroy & Milligan estimated about 2,300 young people between 16 and 19 will likely become a heavy burden on taxpayers due to being on public assistance, involved in crime, or otherwise unproductive members of the workforce. That loss of potential comes with a hefty financial toll — with researchers acknowledging upwards of $250,000 in lost income over his or her lifetime.
Meanwhile, Rob Grunewald, an economist from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, reports high-quality early education can save taxpayers $4 to $16 for every dollar invested based on lower crime costs and higher revenues as a result of increased educational attainment and earnings.
With this in mind, I’m calling upon the Pima County Board of Supervisors to support a proposal known as the “Pima County Preschool Investment Program.” This critical initiative increases the percentage of our county’s 3- and 4-year-olds who attend quality preschools from an alarmingly low 20 percent to in excess of 65 percent.
These preschool opportunities will initially be available to families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This means parents working in fields ranging from hospitality to retail to construction and other industries that represent the working class poor who simply can’t afford the more than $8,000 annual cost of private preschool here in Arizona.
I recognize our county supervisors face a wide range of difficult choices when it comes to appropriating resources and must constantly work to balance competing priorities. This is not one of those difficult choices. Investing in this program is the right choice for our children, a wise way to ensure taxpayer dollars strengthen educational outcomes, and a public safety boon in the years to come.
Chris Magnus is the Tucson Chief of Police.