- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

RICHMOND | Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe began a substantial downstate run of a new ad pitching the need for early childhood education that also makes a claim about prison beds experts expressed doubt about.

The 30-second spot in the Norfolk, Roanoke and Richmond markets is the latest of several the former Democratic National Committee chairman has run since he entered the three-way primary fight in January.

Mr. McAuliffe, who raised millions for the DNC and for the White House races of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has advertised far more heavily than his June 9 primary rivals, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and former Delegate Brian J. Moran.

In the new ad, Mr. McAuliffe says, “Imagine if your entire future is determined by what you did in the third grade. Sometimes it is.”

“Did you know we use the failure rates of third-graders to help predict how many prison spots Virginia will need in 15 years?” he asks as he strolls through a classroom full of pupils at their desks.

The ad spotlights the same goal Gov. Tim Kaine advocated as a candidate and through his term of providing pre-kindergarten access for children in Virginia.

“Pre-K now or prison beds later. The choice is up to us,” Mr. McAuliffe’s ad says.

Meredith Farrar-Owens, the deputy director of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission and a specialist in helping the state project needs for prison and jail space, said the claim is a stretch.

“Prison space forecasts do not use third-grade failure rates,” she said.

Education generally is only one piece among many diverse factors in the complicated calculations criminal justice professionals use to reach the forecast, Ms. Farrar-Owens and commission Director Rick Kern said. Specific grade-level breakdowns aren’t part of the process, they said.

As backing for its claim, Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign submits a March 2008 news release by Virginia Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott’s office and a chart in an April 2006 Department of Criminal Justice Services statistical report titled “Violent Crime and Socioeconomic Stressors” that compared Richmond’s 2005 crime rate, then the state’s worst, to those in eight other Virginia cities and counties with lower crime rates and factors affecting them.

The chart Mr. McAuliffe cites is one of at least 10 that illustrate an even wider array of factors that cumulatively influence crime rates. Others included childhood lead poisoning, teen birth rates, school violence, racial disparities, parents’ educational attainment, child abuse rates and the prevalence of poverty. The more factors to which a child is exposed, the report said, the greater the chance of becoming a violent criminal.

Mr. McAuliffe is hardly alone in making the claim. Mr. Moran said the same thing in a Norfolk radio interview on Thursday.

“We use our third-grade reading exams to determine potential for prison later on,” he said on radio station WHRO.

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