By David Sheridan, graphics by U.S. Dept of Education
State and local spending on prisons and jails has grown three times as much as spending on K-12 public schools over the past three decades.
This is the stunning conclusion of a new report from the U.S. Department of Education.
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Commenting on the report, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama was unusually blunt: “These misguided priorities make us less safe, cost us an exorbitant amount of money and betray our core values. Where there are fewer resources for schools, job training and economic development, cycles of poverty and incarceration continue unabated.”
The Department of Ed report notes: “Investing more in education, particularly targeted at-risk communities, could achieve crime reduction without the heavy social costs that higher incarceration rates impose on individuals, families and communities.”
The picture of state and local spending on incarceration v. higher education also tells the tale of misguided priorities. Over the past two decades, state and local spending on colleges and universities has been nearly flat while spending on prisons and jails increased 89 percent.
Money saved by reducing incarceration rates, through measures such as prison reform and rehabilitation for drug offenders, could be invested in schools which serve poor and minority children to reduce class sizes, expand student counseling and health services, and upgrade rundown facilities.
In addition, restoration practices which foster healthy relationships and promote positive discipline in schools will help reduce incarceration rates by closing the school-to-prison pipeline, freeing up funds for greater investment in education.
Spanish teacher Erika Strauss Chavarria reports that time she has spent implementing and advocating for restorative justice has been worth it. “It’s all about my students,” says Chavarria who’s been teaching for six years. “Restorative justice and other efforts to keep students in school also make good economic sense. Losing even one grade of high school students, the UCLA study found can cost taxpayers more than $35 billion a year.”