Fund Preschools, Not Prisons

Against the backdrop of Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles, parents, education advocates, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles Unified School District Board member Monica Garcia called on state and national leaders to invest in early childhood education rather than devoting more money in prisons and jails.

The rally came one day after leaders in Sacramento reached a compromise on a proposed solution to prison overcrowding, and activists seized the moment to call for a wholesale rededication to “preschool, not prisons.” The event was organized by Raising California Together, a coalition of child care providers, parents, educators, clergy, labor unions, small businesses and community groups united to press for local, state, and national policy solutions to increase access to quality child care and early learning programs.

Studies show that the return on investment from early education is as much as $17 dollars saved for every dollar spent. Without early childhood education, children are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teenage parent and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

The mood of the event was upbeat. Advocates from Homeboy Industries turned out in force, parading to the Twin Towers to call for a shift in priorities away from incarceration. Parents brought little children dressed up as doctors, astronauts, a chef and other careers that will be in reach with a quality education.

“We need to make an investment in the front end, in these children, because the back end is the structure standing behind you,” the Supervisor said, referring to the jail. “We have to embrace each other and look at the human capital we have to work with and develop.”

Currently, nearly 20,000 people are incarcerated in local county jails, while 133,000 are in state prisons in California and nationwide – 1.5 million people are incarcerated in prisons according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics—making it one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

“We need to shift our priorities,” he said. “We need to invest in developing a quality workforce and universal preschool. We support President Obama’s plan to invest billions in quality early learning. Investing in 0-5 and not 25 years to life is not about being soft on crime – it’s about being firm in our commitment to the future and our children.”

School board member Monica Garcia led the crowd in a pointed call and response:
“What do we want?” she asked the crowd.
“Preschools!”
“When do we want it?”
“Now!”