MUNCY, Pa., Feb. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel today joined state and local officials at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy to push lawmakers to take action on the state budget to ensure early childhood education opportunities for Pennsylvania's children. He was joined by Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas, DHS Deputy Secretary Michelle Figlar and state Representative Patty Kim.
Secretary Wetzel has been an outspoken supporter of early childhood education because research shows these programs help get kids on the right path early and keep them out of the criminal justice system later in life.
"We must choose the path that avoids cuts to Pre-K programs and invests even further in proven early childhood education programs to keep kids out of the criminal justice system later in life," said Secretary Wetzel. "In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 80,000 children with at least one incarcerated parent, and these children, simply because they have at least one parent in prison, are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system at some point in their life.
"Currently, Pennsylvania spends more than $2 billion annually—about seven percent of the state budget—to house about 50,000 inmates. Yet, only 30 percent of Pennsylvania children in some of our most needy families are enrolled in high-quality Pre-K programs. We must change this reality to truly stop the growth of our prison system."
Studies show that children who participate in high-quality pre-kindergarten perform better in school, graduate at higher rates and earn more throughout their working lives. And in some cases, children without Pre-K were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.
A recent report by a non-partisan law enforcement-led group called 'Fight Crime: Invest in Kids' estimated that Governor Wolf's proposed $120 million state funding increase for early childhood education will also eventually lead to $350 million in Corrections and other cost savings for the commonwealth every year.
Governor Wolf's 2016-2017 budget includes a $60 million (30.5 percent) increase in high-quality early childhood education. This funding increase builds upon the $60 million investment in 2015-16 to enroll about 14,000 additional children in Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
In 2003, Pennsylvania joined the ranks of states that offer full-day pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds. Currently, only 30 percent of Pennsylvania children in families earning up to three times the federal poverty level – or $72,750 for a family of four – are enrolled in high-quality Pre-K programs.
Studies show that children who participate in high-quality pre-kindergarten perform better in school, graduate at higher rates and earn more throughout their working lives compared to peers that do not have access to early learning programs. Additionally, children who were previously enrolled in Pre-K Counts outperform their economically disadvantaged peers in third-grade math and reading.
Also at today's event, officials unveiled Child Resource Centers, which are an inter-agency partnership project with the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services.
"These Child Resource Centers serve as an excellent example of cross-agency collaboration and cooperation," said DHS Secretary Ted Dallas. "But more importantly, they provide one area where caregivers can obtain a wealth of information about services their child may be eligible to receive. We are excited to work with our sister agencies on yet another way to educate our citizens about these vital programs."
"This administration believes in breaking down barriers among agencies," Secretary Wetzel said. "True partnerships like this are unprecedented, and we know we need to tap into that to make big changes happen."
Wetzel noted that the resource centers are being placed in every DOC visiting area and further emphasized their importance, "By connecting families of an incarcerated persons with all the information they need from a single location, they'll be more likely to contact those who can help. Keeping these kids on target, both at home and in school, sets them up for success and can stop them from eventually ending up with us."
The Child Resource Centers include information about early intervention, Head Start programs, PA Family Centers, PA Pre-K Counts, child care programs and home visiting programs. All materials have clear and direct contact numbers, websites, age ranges and eligibility requirements.
The centers also include a Quick Reference Guide with additional information for raising healthy, well-adjusted children. Links and contact numbers connect caregivers with important topics like child milestones, immunizations, autism services, how to deal appropriately with behavioral issues and other educational areas of interest. It also lists support resources for caregivers themselves, like contact information for COMPASS, Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Department of Education and Department of Human Services, as well as hotlines for domestic violence, child safety, suicide prevention, and addiction treatment/recovery.
Materials from the Child Resource Centers are available in electronic form on the DOC's website. Select the "Initiatives" drop down menu, and then "Child Resource Center."
For more extensive information on early intervention and early learning services and programs, visit the Office of Child Development and Early Learning's website.
Media contact: Susan McNaughton, DOC, 717-728-4025; Kait Gillis, DHS, 717-425-7606
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections