SXSW speakers suggest Pre-K may lower crime rates

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- At South by Southwest EDU on Tuesday, leaders in the military, law enforcement, business and education discussed ways to better prepare young adults, starting with Pre-K education.

According to a 2016 Citizen Readiness Index Report compiled by the nonprofit Council for a Strong America, many young Americans are not prepared to be fully-involved citizens. The report cites that many young adults are unprepared for the workforce, involved in crime and unqualified for service in the military.

"It's shocking how few young people were able to meet those criteria," said David Kass of the Center for a Strong America. Kass shared numbers from his organization which suggest for every dollar invested in high-quality, early learning programs, society saves $4 to $9 because of things like increased life expectancy and increased employment rates.

The organization gave ratings to all of the states in the nation, three-quarters of which earned a grade of C or worse. Texas earned a D.

Panelist Nancy Brown with Mission: Readiness is also a retired admiral. After a lifelong career in the military, she was distressed to learn according to the numbers in the report that 71 percent of young adults today are unqualified for military service. While obesity or criminal records may contribute, Brown believes that the inequities which cause this problem start long before young adulthood.

"It's a proven fact that quality child care and pre-school education provide the foundation to develop young people that are ready to be productive citizens," Brown said.

Panel members Art Acevedo, chief of the Houston Police Department, and Michael Harper, of ReadyNation, all discussed how a Pre-K education can boost young adults ability to be fully integrated into their society.

"A kid that hasn't had a quality Pre-K education enters school behind, stays behind, falls further behind and ultimately ends up dropping out," Acevedo said, "Seven out of the 10 people in prison represent that population."

For 11 years, Acevedo has been on the board of Fight Crime, Invest in Kids, which is part of the Council for a Strong America.

"I believe in the welfare of children and I believe that by investing in kids we wind up securing our economic future our safety and security and our national security as well," said Acevedo, who previously served as police chief in Austin.

With his experience leading police departments in Texas, Acevedo has some strong criticism of Texas politicians.

"Unfortunately, the state of Texas doesn't like to pay for education --- the state legislature, the governor's office doesn't do what they need to do -- tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars are taken from those cities and given out to other districts," Acevedo said, referring to cities like Austin and Houston. "And the sad truth is, on top of that we're talking about capping property taxes on the state level, and I'm not sure how we're gonna pay for the education of our kids, and our roadways, and our police and our fire [departments]."

He believes that Pre-K needs to be funded more and expanded in cities all across Texas.

Austin ISD expanded Pre-K to 3 starting in the 2014- 2105 school year. Now there are a total of 34 AISD campuses that offer Pre-K3. The district has 71 campuses that offer Pre-K 4. Last year, the district expanded Pre-K by 45 classrooms and added a Montessori Pre-K program at Winn Elementary School.

A district spokesperson explained that startup costs for class expansions including equipment and furniture were funded by community donors.

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