Fighting crime with early education

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine is pushing Nebraska lawmakers to save money on police and prisons by spending more tax dollars on early childhood education programs.

Kleine said: "In the last year, we've had 13, 15, and 16 year-olds charged in murder cases."

Kleine believes the solution to keeping kids out of handcuffs can be found in early education classrooms. Kleine said: "Children who participate in these programs are much more likely to continue down the path of becoming a productive adult."

Omaha's Westside School District offers several nationally-accredited early education programs for children as young as 18 months.

Kaycee Meister is in charge of the Westside early education program at Westbrook Elementary School. Meister told WOWT 6 News: "The biggest goal we have here is to teach children social skills and help them eventually become successful members of the community."

In addition to learning about shapes and colors, the children in Meister's early education program also learn about respect and conflict resolution. Meister said: "Teaching them how to get along with one another and how to communicate with each other leads to future academic success."

A recent study by the Council for a Strong America found less than 8 percent of at-risk kids under age 3 in Nebraska have access to early education. Tuition for programs like those offered at Westside can cost hundreds of dollars each week.

So Kleine is pushing lawmakers to spend more money putting kids in classrooms early. He said: "Lawmakers in our legislature must invest in programs that provide high-quality early education... Investing in kids will pay off."