Guest Opinion: Invest your money early and wisely — in our children

GUEST OPINION: PRESCHOOL

February 1, 2014 

We all know that the sooner we start investing money, the better the returns will be later in life because we’re compounding money over time. That’s the idea behind supporting access to early childhood education.

Early childhood education pays dividends throughout the rest of a person’s life. Research shows that one of the most fundamental elements of lifelong success is a good basic education. With that in mind, consider the current proposed legislation to pilot five preschool programs around Idaho to help us make sure we’re investing our education dollars wisely now and compounding our children’s successes later.

First, let me clarify that the proposed legislation does not mandate preschool. It does not take kids away from parents and it does not detract from the Legislature’s other efforts to improve our lagging educational system. What it does is lay the groundwork for smart decisions that may someday give parents access to preschool opportunities that they may not have now. For years we have heard the United Way of Treasure Valley, the YMCA, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and many other organizations and experts tell us that we should be more focused on making sure early childhood education is accessible. We know 90 percent of brain development occurs by age 5. Parents should make the decisions about what is best for their child, but the fact is many parents do not have a choice because they lack access to preschool education in rural, and often suburban, Idaho.

I’ve been in law enforcement for over 30 years and I’ve witnessed the social challenges of our state for even longer. I see people pass through the Ada County Jail every day, many of whom didn’t get the opportunity for a fundamental education and missed the chance to earn a livable wage. How many people might not be in jails or prisons in Idaho if they had a better education? We don’t know for sure, but research in other areas of the country has shown that felony arrests can be decreased by up to 20 percent with successful preschool and childhood education programs. That would translate to well more than $30 million annual incarceration cost avoidance using Idaho’s current numbers.

In the end, almost all funding decisions come down to cost vs. benefit. I constantly see the waste caused by government in the form of poorly thought out decisions, and as a taxpayer and public official, it frustrates me. More than half of the money for this proposed project would come from grants and private funds, so this legislation would effectively more than double our public investment right from the start. It would establish the pilot sites in Idaho where the effects of preschool education could be tracked and evaluated over time. We could then evaluate Idaho data and make more informed decisions about where to invest in education spending. Beyond the pilot program there is no commitment to future funding, so this is a perfect opportunity to test drive before we buy. To provide perspective, if passed, this legislation would be the equivalent of .05 percent of the State Department of Education budget. That is a small price to pay to make sure we make smart decisions later.

In reality, all levels of public education in Idaho deserve more financial support than they currently receive, but this proposal is an investment that will compound benefits for many years to come. Let’s look at our education system as a whole and determine the best long-term strategies for success. Complex problems require complex solutions, but this legislation is a no-brainer. Let’s pull just a penny out of our pocket today and let our kids be the millionaires of tomorrow.

Raney is Ada County sheriff.

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