- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

CAMP HILL, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Wolf is getting help from law enforcement officials in his push to persuade lawmakers to spend more money to raise the quality of Pennsylvania’s pre-kindergarten programs.

Wolf appeared Tuesday morning outside the Camp Hill state prison in suburban Harrisburg with several district attorneys and the head of the state prisons agency to tout his proposal that would add $120 million in early-childhood education funding - an 88 percent increase.

“There is no better way to invest in the lives of our fellow citizens than in early childhood education. We can see the reverse when we don’t invest,” Wolf told reporters.

Wolf and his team pointed to a body of studies from other states they say bears out their message.

A 2001 study by the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin showed that school participation that starts at ages 3 or 4 was associated with “significantly higher rates of school completion by age 20, with lower rates of juvenile arrests.”

About half of Pennsylvania’s 49,000 state prison inmates did not complete high school, said Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed.

Supporters say research shows that children who attended preschool programs are more likely to stay out of prison and do better in other ways, but critics say that research is limited in focus and many of the gains made by these kids fade as they grow older.

Under Wolf’s plan, 14,000 more 3- and 4-year-olds would have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, which must meet guidelines for curriculum, teacher training, nutrition and class size, among other things. Currently, 56,000 Pennsylvania children attend high-quality public pre-kindergarten programs. That is 19 percent of nearly 300,000 3- and 4-year-olds in the state, according to information from the coalition, Pre-K for PA.

New York, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia are well ahead of Pennsylvania, according to the coalition’s figures.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have not signaled whether they will support Wolf’s proposal, particularly if it requires a tax increase, and the law enforcement officials appearing with Wolf did not necessarily advocate for a tax increase.

Freed said he isn’t trying to get lawmakers to spend more money “but to figure out how much money they have to spend, and spend that money on programs that work.”

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