This graduation season was an opportunity to celebrate the hard work and dedication of our community’s young people. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the importance of education and the investments we make as a community for the benefit of our next generation.

As Snyder County District Attorney, I view investments in education as a proven crime-prevention tool. Studies on adverse childhood experiences (ACES) have shown their tremendous impact on future victimization and perpetration. Investments like quality early education can help prevent ACES and reduce their impact. Through pre-K and parenting programs, children learn both the academic skills as well as the social-emotional skills that can help ensure success in K-12 and beyond.

Studies reveal that children who receive high-quality pre-K perform better in school and are less likely to drop out of high school. Additionally, other studies show that young children who get high-quality pre-L are much less likely to commit violent crimes than their peers who didn’t.

In fact, quality pre-K returns an average “profit,” in economic benefits minus costs, of $27,000 for every child served. Apply that to the 32,000 Pennsylvania children getting high-quality pre-K through state-funded programs, and we can see $864 million in societal benefits over their lifetimes.

When it comes to quality education, money (and how you spend it) matters. Research proves that reliable, equitable, and well-designed funding for at-risk students invigorates their classrooms and expands career-exploration opportunities. Without adequate funding, students endure larger classes, overwhelmed teachers who struggle to provide individual attention, and antiquated equipment and materials. They have fewer extracurriculars and electives where they build their talents and explore career interests.

To prepare them for 21st century jobs, we need to provide students with 21st century learning environments and technology.

Students who trail academically are more likely to drop out of high school before graduating, and that’s what brings them into my orbit. Without that diploma, their prospects for good-paying jobs diminish, and criminal behavior becomes more likely. About four out of 10 incoming state prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

It stands to reason that we can expect to have fewer inmates if we can increase graduation rates.

So, investing in education ends up being a great way to fight crime. As policymakers finalize our state’s spending priorities, let’s prioritize education that prepares all children to wear a cap and gown someday.

Mike Piecuch is the Snyder County District Attorney.

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