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Wolf report says more Pre-K funding means fewer prison costs

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CAMP HILL, Pa. -- Gov. Tom Wolf (D) plans to add an additional $120 million dollars to a $30 billion budget, money which he says will go directly into funding for the state's early childhood education and eventually lead to $350 million in annual savings.

Wolf, along with acting Pennsylvania Corrections Department Secretary John Wetzel and district attorneys from four area counties, spoke of the state's recent report -- titled "We're The Guys You Pay Later" -- which shows a bigger focus on Pre-Kindergarten education will lead to better high school graduation rates, reducing the number of criminals and incarcerations in the state. Currently, Pennsylvania spends approximately $2 billion annually to house 50,000 inmates.

"I can't think of a wiser investment that we as a society can make than early childhood education," Wolf said at the presentation held outside the State Corrections Institute (SCI) Camp Hill on Tuesday. "This is not ideology. This is not partisanship. This is simple good sense."

According to the report, an extra $120 million devoted to Pre-K funding will allow Pennsylvania to serve about 14,000 more 3-and-4 year olds. Currently, 70% of children in Dauphin County do not have access to high-quality Pre-Kindergarten. That number jumps to 79% in Lancaster County, and 84% in York and Franklin counties.

"Every interaction a child has in those years literally changes the formation of their brain," Bruce Clash, state director of the advocacy group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said. "This program pays for itself, and on top of that, we'll have a safer, more productive society."

But does it cost too much? Rep. Seth Grove (R-York/Cumberland) is among many Pennsylvania House and Senate Republicans who say Gov. Wolf's budget spending is out of control.

"I think $120 million is very ambitious, especially once you consider the huge tax increase on taxpayers," Grove said, claiming Gov. Wolf plans to pay for the increased Pre-K funding through taxes on daycare programs, child abuse centers, and meals on wheels programs. "I think our system works very well today."

Pennsylvania lawmakers and Governor Wolf have until a June 30 deadline to agree on a new budget. Currently, $1 billion of the $29.9 billion budget is devoted to education costs.