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Clouse: Better education can help fight crime in Arizona


Law enforcement goes back four generations in my family. In fact, my grandfather was the Navajo County sheriff, and I’m proud to have the honor of holding that office today — Being a multigenerational law enforcement family also gives us a grim look at how crime can also stretch across generations.

As sheriff, I want to do everything I can to give young people the best chance to succeed in life. That begins with education — education that can help break negative cycles and replace them with positive ones. Enhancing public safety in the long run is a goal that matters to me, just as that goal mattered to my father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

The desire to achieve those goals is one of the reasons I joined the national law enforcement membership group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. For over 25 years, they’ve consistently advocated for evidence-based solutions that strengthen public safety by putting kids on a productive, crime-free path.

I recently joined with other law enforcement leaders from around the country to release a new Fight Crime: Invest in Kids research brief that shows just how impactful high-quality preschool can be. These programs can help set children on a path toward success — and away from crime.

The brief notes that federal policymakers currently have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a major investment in preschool. This investment would allow approximately 6 million additional children to access high-quality preschool nationwide, including an additional 134,000 here in Arizona.

Supporting such an investment makes sense from a public-safety perspective. Decades of research have shown that high-quality preschool can lead to better academic outcomes, such as higher rates of high school graduation, as well as decreased behavioral problems and lower rates of future incarceration.

The fact that six out of 10 prisoners nationwide do not have a high school diploma sadly reflects the connection between crime prevention and education.

By contrast, kids who have high-quality, positive educational experiences in their earliest years are able to lay an academic and social-emotional foundation that gives them the tools they need to be more likely to succeed in school and avoid crime.

That’s because positive preschool experiences come during a unique period of brain development, with the intellectual and emotional support youngsters receive during the earliest years setting the stage for cognitive and emotional development as they grow.

But, even beyond these improved outcomes for kids, the new research brief shows that high-quality preschool programs can also provide a great return on investment.

The brief includes an independent cost-benefit analysis showing that preschool programs can return an average societal “profit” (economic benefits minus costs) of more than $15,000 for every child served. Applying this per-child “profit” to the additional children served by a federal preschool investment that would expand access to those six million children reveals an overall ROI of $90 billion over the lifetime of these kids, including over $2 billion here in Arizona.

Several factors contribute to this ROI, including better test scores, which are associated with higher earnings in adulthood, as well as reduced costs to society, such as savings on expenses created by children needing special education or being held back in school.

A significant federal investment in pre-K offers an opportunity to increase public safety in a way that will also produce a tremendous return on investment. Instead of focusing on the cost of providing preschool, we need to start focusing on the cost of not providing it.

The savings — in terms of money and lives — provides a powerful argument for providing high-quality early education to more children in Arizona and beyond. If we do, maybe the next generation will see far fewer lives wasted as a result of crime.

Editor’s note: Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Visit strongnation.org/fightcrime.