Neil Rombardo: Nevada can’t afford to scrimp on early childhood programs
Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and I believe they are our most important assets.
Every parent knows how important the first years of a child’s life are to their overall emotional and intellectual growth. Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain develops before their third birthday.
If children spend these years subject to abuse or neglect or lacking basic education and care, they are significantly more likely to struggle in school and end up on the wrong side of the law. That’s when they become my problem, and yours.
As a prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the toll that crime and violence exacts on the victims, their families, and the entire community. Once a crime is committed, the personal and emotional damage can be irreparable. We need to do our best to prevent these crimes from ever happening and investing in our children is the place to start.
Too many of our kids are dropping out of school before they graduate and end up committing crimes that put them behind bars ” that is not where we want them to be. You may be surprised to hear that more than half of Nevada students fail to graduate on time, giving us the lowest graduation rate in the nation. Coming in last is unacceptable for our children and puts our community in jeopardy.
Research shows that increasing graduation rates reduces crime. In order to increase the number of graduates, it is imperative that we make high-quality early education available to all at-risk children who need it.
What does early education have to do with reducing crime and dropouts? Plenty!
A long-term study of a Michigan preschool found that at-risk children who did not attend a high-quality program were five times more likely to be repeat criminals by age 27 than those who did attend the program.
Despite this clear evidence, Nevada is currently second to last in the nation in covering children through both state pre-kindergarten and the federal Head Start program.
Every year that goes by with low pre-k enrollment for at-risk kids contributes to long-term problems we simply do not want and cannot afford. Congress and state officials must act now to ensure that quality early childhood education programs are available and accessible to all children who qualify.
Over 4,000 law enforcement leaders and violence survivors, including 23 in our state, have rallied to the banner of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization. In recent weeks, my colleagues in law enforcement joined together in Las Vegas and Reno to call attention to the need for better early education. We believe that in order to prevent crime and violence, we need to tackle this problem at its roots by investing far more in programs that help at-risk kids get the right start in life.
In order to make Nevada a safer place and allow our children to realize their full potential as law-abiding citizens, we need to devote more resources to early childhood development. The security of all Nevadans demands it.
I am obviously aware of the budget constraints in these difficult financial times. However, the costs associated with the legal system, such as costs to victims, arrests, prosecution and incarceration far outweigh the costs of prevention. The question, therefore, is: Can we afford not to make this investment?
Neil A. Rombardo is the District Attorney of Carson City.