Sunday, August 24 2014 12:56 AM EDT2014-08-24 04:56:42 GMT
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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County law enforcement officials want Gov. Bill Haslam to spend more money on pre-kindergarten programs like Head Start.
Those programs have been popular targets for state lawmakers looking for budget cuts, but authorities say investing in early childhood education can help cut crime, meaning the state would spend less on prison costs.
A Washington D.C.-based organization known as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids recently wrote a letter to Gov. Haslam asking him spend more money on the state's Pre-K program.
The organization cites various studies that have shown kids who took part in the program are less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
Law enforcement paid a visit Thursday morning to the North Ridge Crossing Head Start Center in North Knoxville.
"What we see is these children are less likely to become involved in criminal activity if they get engaged early on in their lives with education," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols and Chief Rausch are some of the hundreds of law enforcement officials in the state who are urging the state to spend more on the Pre-K programs.
Tennessee's Head Start programs serve more than 20,000 low-income children and their families every year.
The Knoxville-Knox County Head Start program serves 928 kids, or 30 percent of the eligible population.
"The time from birth to five years is the most critical time for children's development, "said Nancy Thomas, assistant director of the Knoxville- Knox County Head Start program.
The state spent $ 91.4 million on pre-K programs in its most recent budget cycle.
The Pre-K program was rolled out in 2005, but critics say it doesn't translate into long term benefits in the classroom.
"If what we're doing right now is not getting the results, that money can be spent better on teacher salaries than expanding another bureaucracy," said Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville).
Dunn said he doesn't think an expansion of Pre-K programs will help bring down crime. He questions why the Fight Crime organization is advocating for Tennessee's Pre-K programs.
"These guys are paid to come in and convince people. I think police and law enforcement are really happy to do something for children and against crime. Unfortunately, they're being duped. They're being used," Rep. Dunn said.
"I don't disagree there are programs out there that are being funded that shouldn't be, but I think what's important is that they took at those programs that are having an effective impact on our community," Chief Rausch said.
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is an organization of over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and survivors of violence.
They look at research about what prevents kids from becoming criminals and put that information into the hands of policymakers and the general public.
According to the organization, eight percent of Tennessee's three year olds and 33 percent of four year olds are enrolled in pre-kindergarten or Head Start.