By Karen Stokes
A new report from the U. S. Department of Education revealed that the majority of state and local governments are investing more money on prison than on education.
The report, Trends in State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, released on July 7, showed that on the average, state and local governments are spending three times more on corrections than on education. The data shows that in 18 states, taxpayers are paying more for incarceration than education.
There are seven states: Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia that exceed the average rate and are actually spending five times more on corrections than PK-12 education.
Only two states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire had corrections expenditures that did not exceed education spending.
“Budgets reflect our values and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited,” said John B. King, Jr., U.S. Secretary of Education, during a conference call. “For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children’s future. We need to invest more in schools, not prisons.”
The report paints a striking portrait of the correlation between incarceration and education. Statistics show:
• One out of three working age Americans have a criminal record.
• Two-thirds of state prison inmates did not complete high school.
“A 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates would result in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates,” King said.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama reported that the United States spends approximately $80 billion a year on incarceration.
An analysis report from the Wisconsin Budget Project shows that only 11 states spend more money on corrections than Wisconsin. Wisconsin spends more per person on corrections than do the neighboring states of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. State and local governments spent $1.5 billion on corrections in 2013, 12 percent more than the national average.
The state spending on corrections in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) has increased 7 percent over the last seven budgets which in contrast to state GPR spending on K-12 school which declined 14 percent and the University of Wisconsin System which declined 21 percent.
The study showed that in addition to driving up costs, Wisconsin’s over reliance on incarceration hurts communities. One of every eight African American men of working age is behind bars. This is the highest rate in the country. Wisconsin also incarcerates more Native Americans than any other state.
“Mass incarceration does not make us safer,” Jarrett said. “Yet for three decades, our country has prioritized spending on prisons instead of classrooms. These misguided priorities make us less safe and betray our values and it’s time for us to get together as a country to invest in our people and their capacity to contribute to society.”
The Obama administration has worked on initiatives to interrupt the school to prison pipeline. One of those initiatives is My Brother’s Keeper.
In 2014 President Obama issued a call to action to major cities across the country to improve the lives of boys and men of color. The initiative identifies six focus areas:
• Attend school ready to learn
• Reading at grade level by third grade
• Graduating from high school ready for college and career
• Completing college education or training
• Entering the workforce
• Reducing violence and providing second chances
Milwaukee Public Schools joined My Brother’s Keeper in 2014. MPS collaborated with families, local business and community organizations to increase the number of males of color who succeed academically and socially in our schools.