The advocacy group representing law enforcement agencies around the country used some questionable evidence as their justification for their approval of President Barack Obama's universal pre-K program. Specifically, they relied on research showing a link between universal pre-K and a lower crime rate that has not only been questioned by other scientists but has been outright discredited since its publication.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the group that represents the views of more than 5,000 law enforcement officers and officials, released their eye-catchingly-titled report "I'm the Guy You Pay Later" which claims that a federally funded universal early childhood education program could actually produce savings in the long run by reducing the amount of money spent on catching and incarcerating lawbreakers later. According to Robby Soave of The Daily Caller, among those quoted in the report is Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who said that all law enforcement agencies knew perfectly well that universal pre-K programs were the best way to keep kids on the straight and narrow, leading to lower drop-out rates and reduced instances of criminality.
Too good to be true? Grover Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, thinks so.
"The evidence on the impact of early childhood programs on crime is decidedly mixed," he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller.
"I'm the Guy You Pay Later" relies on several studies of pre-K programs to support its claims, at least one of which is seriously flawed, according to Whitehurst.
"The study of the Chicago Child-Parent Program, which is primary resource used for the estimates in the Fight Crime report, is seriously flawed in that there is no reason to believe that the treatment and control group were similar to begin with," wrote Whitehurst.
That wasn't the only flaw Whitehurst discovered. He said that the crime rate estimates used in the study are likewise "misleading." Specifically, he raised questions about the conclusions drawn by the study that all socioeconomic groups would benefit from access to universal pre-K. Even if the link between lower crime rates and early childhood education was firmly established – a big "If" in itself – there was no evidence that similar gains could be seen from spending money on such programs for kids from middle-class families.
A review of Head Start — the federal pre-K program — by the Department of Health and Human Services found scant social and academic benefits to enrolled children. While preschool kids often graduate ahead of their peers, by fourth grade their advantage disappears.
Still, the endorsement of law enforcement officers will undoubtedly aid Obama in his quest to convince House Republicans that universal preschool is worth funding. The current proposal would pay for the program via a massive increase on tobacco taxes.