Birmingham law enforcement officials are stressing the importance of early education. Police Captain Henry Irby and Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls recently visited the Festival Head Start center to spread an important message— invest more in kids. And officials believe this will in turn, lead to less crime.
Students at the Festival Head Start center in Birmingham are getting a treat. It’s a fun morning for them— but officials say they’re there for a reason.
“The earlier we can get quality childcare and education to kids, the better, because once they get to middle school and high school, they become vulnerable to older kids who can influence them in a much better or negative way,” says Birmingham Police Captain, Henry Irby. “But with good education, good decision making, they can do the right things.”
And that’s why they’re supporting Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national non-profit organization. Fight Crime has released a report called “Pay Now or Pay Much More Later.” The report shows that investing in high quality early childcare education can specifically help at-risk children succeed and significantly reduces the likelihood that they will commit crimes.
“There’s a correlation between being educated and not being educated in many cases,” says Captain Irby. “We find that they come from homes where there’s not support, there’s not support from other organizations and without the guidance and education to make good choices and decisions, they end up going the wrong way via peer pressure or via just not knowing what to do.”
Jefferson County District Attorney, Brandon Falls, says research has also shown that effective pre-k programs can help save taxpayer dollars.
“Now the programs are cost effective. The (Michigan) Perry Preschool Program cut crime, welfare and other costs so much, that saved taxpayers an average of 180,000 dollars for every child served,” says Falls. “The vast majority of the savings came from reduced crimes costs alone.”
Gayle Cunningham, who serves as the Executive Director of the Jefferson County Committee for Equal Opportunity, has seen firsthand the benefits of a quality pre-k program and while she says Alabama’s is one of the best in the nation, it’s not enough.
“We serve so few children, we don’t have enough funding to serve other children who are eligible,” says Cunningham. “That would be all the children who are four and going to kindergarten next year. So Alabama has a great program but not enough money to provide it for all the children who want to be in it and who would benefit from it.”
Because of this, law enforcement officials from Jefferson County plan to call on U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, to support funding for early childhood education. Shelby is a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Cunningham supports this effort and says programs like Head Start impacts entire communities.
“We develop the workers of tomorrow, we develop the students of tomorrow and the work that we do touches every sector of society,” says Cunningham. “Even when you don’t have a child and don’t think early childhood education makes a difference, it does.”
And Captain Irby hopes their visit will spark students’ interest in reading and show them the importance of staying in school. He says giving kids these opportunities early in life may be one of the best ways to prevent future problems and will serve them well in life, even after their school days are over.