Neil Rombardo Guest Column: Early education leads to more caps and gowns and fewer inmates

During my eight years as District Attorney of Carson City, I never hesitated to prosecute people who broke the law. But no matter how many convictions I won, I knew then — as I know now — our streets are a lot safer if we prevent more people from turning to crime in the first place.

Our success in doing so depends directly on the educational success of our students. By the time kids get to kindergarten, many are already behind in vocabulary development and pre-literacy and pre-math skills. They can also have problems with behavior and impulse control — which makes it hard to get along with other kids and teachers.

Participation in high quality preschool can put kids on a far better course. As profiled in recent reports from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, long-term studies of a high-quality preschool program in Chicago found at-risk kids who didn’t participate in the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18 than participants. Furthermore, by age 26, individuals who participated in the program were 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated than those who didn’t attend.

Unfortunately, many at-risk kids in Nevada don’t have access to high-quality early education programs. In fact in 2014, Nevada served just four percent of four-year-olds in state preschool — ranking below 36 other states in its share of children served.

The good news is Nevada lawmakers have an opportunity to set Nevada kids on a path to success by supporting Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to invest in high-quality early education for the kids who need it most. This investment will provide access to an additional 1,560 children and upgrade existing preschool programs to a full-day program. This is important because results from a trial show children who participated in a full-program improved more on vocabulary and math assessments than did children in a part-day program.

This investment is good for these at-risk children and for taxpayers as well. A rigorous analysis showed preschool for disadvantaged children can save more than $26,000 per child served based on reduced costs of crime, grade retention and special education. Based on this formula, Nevada could save at least an additional $40 million per graduating preschool class in the long-term if we implement Gov. Sandoval’s plan. The Fight Crime report also shows if we reduce felonies by just 10 percent, we can reduce our prison population by nearly 1,300 each year and save approximately $26 million per year in corrections costs.

This isn’t about big government. In fact it’s about smaller government since reductions in crime is going to lead to fewer inmates and fewer people needed to manage our prisons and jails. It will also about a bigger, better economy, because more high school graduates will ultimately lead to more young people who will be prepared for the workforce.

For these reasons and more I hope lawmakers act on Gov. Sandoval’s proposal to invest in high-quality early education, because we all win when young people bypass handcuffs and jumpsuits in favor of caps and gowns and diplomas that signify they’re truly prepared for success in life.

Attorney Neil Rombardo served two terms as Carson City District Attorney.


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