KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City mayor Sly James will toss out a bold, new pitch to crowds during All-Star week, but the mayor said this one will speed far beyond baseball.
James says he needs teams of people to help him reach children before they reach third grade.
Here is the question he plans to ask hundreds of people he will have access to during the star studded event: would you rather spend $5 on a children's book or shell out $37,000 to $47,000 for a jail cell.
"When you look at the population of incarcerated people, they don't know how to read, they didn't graduate from high school, they have reading disabilities," explained Mayor James.
James said he thinks of reading volunteers as crime fighters. He wants to enlist thousands of people in a new program called "Turn the Page KC."
Statistics show children have a real chance at life and at prosperity if taught to read by the third grade.
A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation claimed third grade is a crucial marker. If a child cannot read by then, the foundation's research noted millions of children across the nation, particularly low income children, fail to graduate from high school years later.
Educators say a student learns to read by third grade, but a student reads to learn from fourth grade and beyond.
If that doesn't happen, Mayor James feared the impact on the future.
"Your chances of going to prison increase by 12 percent, just at third grade," said Mayor James.
Documentaries have quoted a White House task force from the 1990s saying some states look at fourth grade reading proficiency in part to project the number of prison cells they will need in the future.
Now in Kansas City, the mayor said children's books are helping reduce the prison population.
Volunteers make the difference
Reading volunteer Jerry VanBuskirk and 8 year old Colby are an adorably sweet odd couple who have become close friends at the reading center, the Upper Room. Colby is in the second grade.
The two are funny together, and Jerry has taught Colby how to read for the last two years.
Jerry and Colby met at the the Upper Room, located in the basement of a church on Swope Parkway.
"When he came in he wasn't even in Kindergarten level," described VanBuskirk.
Colby and his twin brother were two grade levels below where they attended in school.
"'I -t. What's i-t?' We had to teach him a lot of the two letter words: It, is and so forth. They've just now learned their vowels," explained VanBuskirk.
"That is sad to be in second grade and you can't spell i-s," said VanBuskirk, his eyes filling with tears.
The mayor wants more volunteers like VanBuskirk on the city's front lines, not only saving a child, but also, according to Mayor James, saving a city.
When challenged as to his motivations, Mayor James admits that while he may not be superintendent of schools, the important of this issue is hey to Kansas City.
"Education is vital to every single thing we do in this city. The higher the education, the more likely you are to never have your employment interrupted,” explained Mayor James. “PhD's tend to work straight through, people without high school diplomas lose their jobs right and left."
Better Education, Better Income
Economic research groups have found high quality early childhood programs produce the same kind of benefits on a community as tax incentives. In fact, the Chamber of Commerce in Overland Park said its quality education is the top reason why businesses relocate there.
The Overland Park Chamber said quality schools lead to quality jobs and overall higher incomes for communities.
The highly educated residents near the intersection 135th and Lamar in Overland Park, and their average $165,000 household incomes, are the reasons why New York City's Natural History Museum chose that corner to build its future traveling museum.
President Obama is quoted in the documentary "The Lottery" saying the United States loses "billions of dollars on people who don't graduate."
UMKC Charter School Center said drop outs cost society on average $292,75 more in social services over the span of their lifetime than someone who graduates.
The Upper Room's director, Jerry McEvoy, agreed with need to reach out early.
"After third grade, it's difficult to catch up," said McEvoy.
McEvoy's Upper Room program has 3,500 children enrolled this summer needing help to read, but the mayor wants more volunteers year round.
McEvoy noted that leaders of churches have came through for the program “big time."
McEvoy said he witnesses success stories every day, that there is good news.
“One summer of reading often moves a child ahead one whole grade level," said McEvoy. "There's no stopping them once they've got their confidence."
The children are tested and McEvoy said achieving a 100 percent becomes addictive to children who have never experienced a score like that.
As for Colby, he is now a reader.
His mentor, VanBuskirk said that is a gift of a