Del. Ken Plum: Return on Investment

Del. Ken Plum/File photoConstituents contacted me recently about a Richmond Times Dispatch article headline they felt was misleading: “Ken Plum says Pre-K education leads to less crime and welfare.”

Certainly the editor did not mean that I thought that preschool education leads to less crime but more welfare as a quick read of the headline could lead some to believe. An unscrupulous opponent in my progressive district could quote the headline in part to suggest that I thought preschool education leads to welfare. Stranger things have happened.

My constituents’ concerns were enhanced by the fact that part of the headline was a “Truth-o-Meter” symbol indicating “Mostly True.” Reading the article and the pull out of my quote makes clear my position: “We’ve got 40 years of study now that show that, with a good preschool start, you’re less likely to be on public dole. You’re less likely to be in prison. You’re much more likely to be a good productive citizen. That money spent up front saves money in the long haul.”

My statement was based on a 2005 HighScope Educational Research Foundation follow-up report on students who had been in preschool or in a control group without preschool — all of whom had reached age 40. Researchers concluded that those “who had the preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.” There are several other studies that have similar findings but do not cover as long a period of time.

I am pleased with the general knowledge that now exists in the community on the value of preschool education even though it has not achieved the level of support needed in the Virginia General Assembly for expansion to include more children — especially those who are economically disadvantaged.

Business leaders in the Commonwealth recognize its value. Mike Petters, president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest military shipbuilding company in the world and one of the largest companies in Virginia, said he thinks “raising a child is a lot like building a ship — you have to lay a strong foundation to get it right.”

He says that “preschool development is one of the most critical things we can do for the community,” and he has worked with many other business leaders and the State Chamber of Commerce for expanded preschool programs.

PolitiFact Virginia rated my claim “Mostly True” based on slight variations among research reports. I stand by my conviction that preschool participation does lead an individual to be less likely to be involved in crime. Without sparing words to make for a short headline, it does reduce the likelihood of one being on welfare. Preschool education has proven that it provides a solid return on investment by not only helping individuals get a strong start in life but by saving government dollars down the road.

Ken Plum represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. His views do not necessarily represent those of Reston Now.

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