As a County Attorney, it’s my job to do everything possible to protect the public. Putting people behind bars who commit crimes is one way I do that. But I know from my personal experiences in the courtroom that we can’t simply arrest, prosecute and incarcerate our way out of our crime problems. We have to implement strategies that keep people from turning to crime in the first place.
Education needs to be the focal point of that strategy. Nationwide, seven out of 10 inmates in state prisons don't have a high school diploma. I look at the history of the defendants I am prosecuting and I can see the pattern of events that led them into the courtroom. Many struggled in school. Some who cannot read or write end up getting frustrated and dropping out. Make no mistake about it, while I prosecute well-educated people, there is an undeniable link between school failure and future crime.
We know from research that investments in high-quality early care and education programs pu t kids on a different course and provide them with a foundation for success right out of the starting gate. I understand the committee toured Educare Omaha this morning, and while all communities can’t have an Educare, it’s not the building that’s important—it’s what is happening in the building that makes the difference. We know more today about how consistent investments prior to kindergarten entry help build fundamental skills necessary for a successful educational experience, and therefore, a different path than choosing crime. We can replicate Educare’s results in any community in Nebraska.
I’m glad to say that we do have good things happening in our state. The Legislature has invested in high-quality preschool programs through our public schools, in high-quality infant and toddler development through Sixpence and by recently incorporating a quality rating system for our state’s child care providers, who care for a high number of children prior to kindergarten entry. Even with these investments, we are only reaching a small number of the children who are at greatest risk for school failure and the possibility of turning to a life of crime.
From school success to productive citizen, I want to reiterate that investments in high-quality early childhood education pay back in a multitude of ways.
-- Don Kleine, Douglas County Attorney and member of Nebraska Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, testimony before the Nebraska Legislature's Education Committee on the Committee's visioning process to create a strategic plan for education in Nebraska.