Universal pre-K in state would pay off

The Indiana Department of Correction spent more than $526 million in operational and capital costs in 2015 on its facilities for adults. The DOC houses about 43,000 prisoners in its facilities. Meanwhile, Indiana is one of eight states that don’t offer universal pre-kindergarten education.

At first glance, the two concerns might seem unrelated. But when you consider that educational attainment, strongly influenced by an early start in reading and other academic areas, has a powerful impact on the factors that keep people out of prison — earning power, knowledge, social adjustment, self esteem — the connection between prison and education emerges.

Gov. Mike Pence’s limited program to sample pre-K education in selected Indiana communities has been just that — too limited. Only about 2,300 children have gone through the program since it was launched in five Hoosier counties in 2015. It’s worth noting that Pence elected not to pursue $80 million in federal funding for pre-K education in 2014. He cited a concern about “federal intrusion.”

Indiana needs, for both its present and its future, universal early-childhood education for 4-year-olds now.

Yes, this will be costly, but not doing it — it takes about $19,000 a year to house each inmate at DOE facilities — is costlier still.

Beyond ultimately helping reduce the costs of criminal behavior, early-childhood education can lead to better long-term educational outcomes, helping Hoosiers get good jobs and stay off welfare, reducing the burden on taxpayers.

Providing pre-K education is so important that our governor and legislators simply must find the money for it and must institute it as soon as possible.

Democrat John Gregg, who will oppose Pence in November’s gubernatorial election, has developed an ambitious plan to bring universal early-childhood education to the state. While the funding sources for Gregg’s $150 million program are vaguely stated — he says he will tap, in part, already existing tax streams and federal grants — there’s no doubt about the value the program would hold for Indiana’s future.

Hoosier children should get the same educational head start American kids in other states enjoy. Otherwise, they’ll be playing catch-up throughout their elementary, middle school and high school careers. That disadvantage, then, would be carried over into adulthood.

All Hoosier children moving forward need pre-K education. It’s not a privilege anymore; it’s a necessity.

Our choices are very clear: We can pay for early-childhood education up front; or we can pay for more inmates to be incarcerated 20 years from now.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.