Kentucky should invest in preschools, not jails

Published 12:50 pm Friday, November 30, 2018


Contributing columnist

A comprehensive study of the Boyle County jail is complete and the news isn’t good. The current 220-bed facility is too small.  The jail budget has burgeoned from $2 million to $3 million in four years. The study recommends a 480-bed facility to get our fair community through 2048.

Email newsletter signup

There are questions of prejudice with Circuit Judge Darren Peckler’s handling of low-income defendants and excessive cash bail. Additionally, he apparently did not participate in the study and did not allow full access to his staff, which brings more questions than answers.

The study questions the efficacy of the current pre-trial diversion program, recommending changes that Commonwealth Attorney Ritchie Bottoms feels are not needed.

What if there was a solution to this jail business that did not entail a new facility that doubles in size? What if there was a solution to having fewer individuals in court proceedings and more in productive jobs?

What if that solution is at our fingertips?

It is. It’s called universal preschool.

Hang in here with me. I’m about to get technical.

According to a National Adult Literacy Survey, 70 percent of all incarcerated adults cannot read at a fourth grade level. This means these adults do not have the reading skills required to hold down any type of job other than those with the lowest wages.

The 2017 Early Childhood Profile for all Boyle County children, including those in the Danville school system, shows that 232 of 616 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in public preschool. In order to enroll in public preschool, a child must either have a disability or live at or below 160 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The Federal Income Poverty Level for 2017 was $24,339 for a family of four.

Households where adults are active participants in babies’ and children’s development and play produce students who are ready for kindergarten. Students who are kindergarten-ready have smaller, if any, educational skills gaps.

Children who are kindergarten-ready have been read to, have had ready access to crayons and paper, puzzles, creative toys and activities that encourage imagination and interaction.

If a child does not get these skill building opportunities at home, preschool can begin to help close that gap at age 3. Children who cannot attend public preschool because of the income requirement, transportation issues, or other arbitrary obstacles, face an almost insurmountable learning curve when they begin kindergarten.

These are the education gap children that standardized tests love to hate, that school districts spend countless hours trying to help get caught up with their preschooled peers. These are the children who will eventually quit high school and likely end up incarcerated in our local jail.

The state funding for preschool continues decrease in the face of concrete, longitudinal data that early educational intervention decreases poverty rates, unemployment, drug use and incarceration. 

Why isn’t preschool a universal requirement? MONEY. Until legislators, lobbyist, corporations and shareholders can find a way to make millions of dollars on the backs of 3- and 4-year-old children, education will continue to receive minimum funding.

Gov. Matt Bevin and his charter school crony, Wayne Lewis, the current commissioner of education, are in the process of trying to eke out a profit under the guise of improved education with charter schools. Once again, the adults fail the children.

The answer is crystal clear: We can invest in our children from the beginning of their lives to ensure they have quality education, or we can invest in them as adults in the revolving doors that make up our lack-of-justice-system.

Until voters in our state make educating all of our children a priority, we will continue to build larger jails and smaller schools.

As an aside, our community has a wonderful, free pre-school-type program called The Gladys Project. It’s singular mission to help children become kindergarten ready. For more information, visit or call (859) 209-1618.

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.