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Sheriff to Lawmakers: Fight Crime with Better Pre-K Programs

January 24, 2012

ALBANY, N. Y. - Lawmakers at a joint hearing on education spending in the 2012-13 Executive Budget heard from a county sheriff Monday who urged them to add funding to a program that helps parents find the best pre-kindergarten programs for their toddlers.

Warren County Sheriff Bud York testified in favor of the state spending $20 million to help with implementation of a rating system, QUALITYstarsNY. He says if they do, he'll have fewer grown-up criminals in his jail - because better Pre-K care leads to better elementary school students and ultimately, better citizens.

"The jail population now - at least in my jail - 50 percent of the people in this jail don't even have a high school education."

York is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a group that commended the governor for maintaining the current spending on pre-K at $384 million - but said it's a good investment only if it is spent on high-quality programs. They say research shows the long-term benefits of getting kids the earliest possible start on learning.

Sheriff York says he's long held the belief that better early education pays off with fewer kids sliding out of school and into trouble - and fewer inmates living on taxpayer money in jail.

"When I have a $7 million budget in my jail system and have to pay for the education, for the health and welfare, for the dental of all of the people that are incarcerated by judges, I want less people incarcerated. So, if there's any programs out there that might help do that, I want it done."

Meredith Wiley, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, says the QUALITYstarsNY rating system for pre-K programs has been rolled out and tested - and now, needs state aid to move toward full statewide deployment.

"To move it to the next level, the next stage of implementation would take $20 million. So, we know it's a tough year but we also know that there's a lot at stake in making this happen."

She explains that QUALITYstarsNY works much like a five-star restaurant or hotel rating system that would not only help parents decide which pre-K facilities are best, but help the care providers know what they need to do to bring their programs up to new quality standards.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY