The science of human development reveals that traits such as empathy, impulse control and the ability to form strong social and emotional attachments not only influence children's academic performance, but their overall social competency as well. Children who face serious risk factors in their earliest years—including severe poverty, unstable family environments and a lack of developmentally appropriate early learning experiences—are more likely to drop out of school, adopt unsafe and unhealthy life habits and eventually find their way into Nebraska's overburdened criminal justice system.
Crime has a direct impact on the quality of life our state takes pride in, but the fiscal consequences are just as apparent. Nebraska currently faces enormous challenges to its ability to accommodate a rapidly growing population of incarcerated offenders. This places a steadily-mounting burden on Nebraska taxpayers, who will realize little or no return on the average $35,950 spent to house and maintain each inmate annually—nearly three times the amount we invest on average for each student in the public school system. This expenditure does not include the other costs of crime associated with prosecution, damages and loss of productivity.
State and national law enforcement officials agree that high-quality early childhood investments are a key strategy for turning this trend around, reducing the drain on public resources due to crime and making Nebraska's communities safer, more attractive places to live and work.
Nebraska currently spends in excess of $185 million annually on corrections, and is facing an additional outlay of $261 million simply to ease overcrowding of its incarcerated population. This far outweighs our state’s total investment in high-quality early learning opportunities targeting children at risk, even though strong evidence from model programs indicates that participating children can be as much as 5 times less likely to become chronic offenders by age 27.
This alarming trend points at a growing deficit in the military’s recruitment pool, and consequently a growing challenge to our national security. Increasingly, many of our nation’s most senior military leaders are looking to investments in early childhood as a proven strategy for building a generation of skilled, disciplined and physically fit citizens who can meet the needs of our armed forces and civilian sector in the decades ahead.
“The world is a far more complicated place than it was just a few years ago. To meet the challenges of this more complex environment, high-quality education, beginning at a very early age, is the bedrock on which we will build for the future. Absent the lesson that the rewards of early education will carry over through the years, we face uncertainties about our nation’s ability to compete successfully in the global community.” Paul G. Cohen, Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force (Retired)