An advocacy group representing law enforcement leaders has endorsed President Obama’s universal preschool plan, citing selective — and in some cases, discredited — evidence that pre-K enrollment deters criminal behavior.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids — a national advocacy organization consisting of over 5,000 police officers, sheriffs and prosecutors — released a study Tuesday claiming that Obama’s proposal to ramp up funding for universal pre-K by $75 billion would actually save taxpayers money by reducing costly incarcerations in the long run.
The study, titled “I’m the Guy You Pay later,” argues that early childhood investment would eventually save $75 billion a year — a significant boon, since the program costs $75 billion over 10 years.
“Law enforcement leaders nationwide know that one of the best ways to keep young people from dropping out of school and becoming criminals is to make sure they have a foundation for success in their earliest years,” wrote Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who was cited in the study.
Too good to be true? Grover Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, thinks so.
“The evidence on the impact of early childhood programs on crime is decidedly mixed,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller.
“I’m the Guy You Pay Later” relies on several studies of pre-K programs to support its claims, at least one of which is seriously flawed, according to Whitehurst.
“The study of the Chicago Child-Parent Program, which is primary resource used for the estimates in the Fight Crime report, is seriously flawed in that there is no reason to believe that the treatment and control group were similar to begin with,” wrote Whitehurst.
The crime reduction estimates in the study are similarly misleading, he said. Even if early education efforts do reduce incarceration rates among disadvantaged kids, there is no reason to expect that expanding the program to children from middle-class families would have the same effect.
A review of Head Start — the federal pre-K program — by the Department of Health and Human Services found scant social and academic benefits to enrolled children. While preschool kids often graduate ahead of their peers, by fourth grade their advantage disappears.
Still, the endorsement of law enforcement officers will undoubtedly aid Obama in his quest to convince House Republicans that universal preschool is worth funding. The current proposal would pay for the program via a massive increase on tobacco taxes.
An analysis by the Tax Foundation concluded that tobacco tax revenues would not be enough to cover the full cost of the program, and states could eventually end up stuck with the bill.