Local Law Enforcement Leaders and Lawmakers Advocate for More Resources for Early Childhood Education

On December 10th, Porter-Leath hosted national nonprofit, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK), and local law enforcement leadership to highlight key findings from a new report, “Early Childhood Educators: Our Partners in Crime Prevention in Tennessee”. Porter-Leath is proud to have local supporters advocating for more resources for our high-quality Preschool program that ensures children are ready for kindergarten. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner visited Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Academy along with lawmakers Sen. Raumesh Akbari and Rep. Antonio Parkinson, to read to pre-K students and show their support for early childhood education. They stressed the benefits that early success in school can have on reducing crime later in life.  

“We’ve known for a long while that there’s a connection between early childhood education and crime avoidance,” explained Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings. “Putting them on the right path as they’re just beginning school is a vital step in keeping them away from crime as they grow up.” According to the report published by FCIK, investments in high-quality early childhood education (ECE) can result in positive longterm outcomes like better school performance, fewer school dropouts and lower instances of crime. Sheriff Bonner added, "We can’t arrest our way out of crime. High-quality Pre-K fights crime by readying kids for success." 

Statistically, 6 out of 10 prison inmates do not have a high school diploma*, and many are functionally illiterate. Early childhood education programs such as Porter-Leath’s Preschool aims at getting the students to the appropriate reading level so they are ready to begin kindergarten, thus setting them up for success. This success helps to steer children away from a life of crime, and gives them a better chance at escaping the cycle of poverty. “We are trying to stop these kids before they get incarcerated with us, we are trying to say to the community, invest in our children now,” Sheriff Bonner said. Weirich added, “The sooner we can get our kids to school, the better for them and the better for all of us.”

Senator Raumesh Akbari with Porter-Leath Early Head Start Student

FCIK's report also found that high-quality preschool programs share certain key features, including highly-qualified teachers, developmentally-appropriate standards and curricula, appropriate teacher-child ratios, small class sizes, monitoring and quality-improvement systems, and screening and referral to needed services. 

To echo the importance of early childhood education, Joshua Spaulding, National Director for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK) explained, “Youth that have participated in high-quality early childhood education are much less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.”  

Furthermore, Spaulding mentioned that there is a need to ensure a sustainable early childhood workforce through increased wages and a streamlined certification process.  State lawmakers agree and look forward to taking this on in the upcoming legislative session. According to Sen. Akbari, "When you even look at the history of us still having voluntary pre-K and early childhood education as opposed to mandatory, and if you look at other areas of the South like Mississippi, Tennessee is ahead of the curve, but Georgia is kicking our butt."  Rep. Parkinson added, “ This needs to be our priority. It needs to be our priority in funding. It needs to be our priority in policy.”


For more on this story, review highlights from local media: 

Local Memphis 24 (ABC)

WMC Action News 5 (NBC)

Fox 13 (FOX) 

WREG News 3 (CBS)

Note: *7 Ewert, S., & Wildhagen, T. (2011). Educational characteristics of prisoners: Data from the ACS.