There is no better solution to the scourge of crime and violence in our communities than sound investments in early childhood education.

That is the message that I — along with 10 other police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors — delivered recently in meetings with Governor Rauner and top legislative leaders in Springfield.

Research from the crime-prevention group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids — of which I am a member — shows that children who attend high-quality preschool programs are more likely to succeed in school, and less likely to commit crimes later in life. The “profit” from early ed — from reducing the costs of grade retention, special ed, incarceration, and more — comes to $30,000 per child.

That makes early education a smart investment. 

Illinois has a proud, 30-year history of bipartisan support for strengthening voluntary early childhood education in a variety of settings, to match families’ needs and parents’ choices. Only recently have we gotten back on track with expanding preschool options for families, sticking with a five year plan to do so. So my fellow law enforcement officials and I were pleased when the State Board of Education and Governor Rauner proposed increased funding for the coming year.

That funding, however, can’t happen without a state budget, and Illinois has gone nearly two years without one. Without a budget, preschool programs remain uncertain that they will be able to open their doors in the fall. At-risk kids who would benefit from preschool remain unserved. And the state risks losing federal dollars targeted for preschool.

The evidence for the crime prevention benefits of early education is clear. So is the need for our state leaders to come together to pass a budget that makes investments in our children and in our future.

Thomas Weitzel, chief

Riverside Police Department