To the Editor:
In the midst of nationwide calls by communities to end police brutality, a July 8, 2016, post on Education Week‘s Politics K-12 blog covered a report by the U.S. Department of Education indicating that states and cities across the country have increased spending on prisons and jails at triple the rate of funding for public education in preschool through 12th grade (“Corrections Spending Grows at Triple the Rate of School Funding, Ed. Dept. Reports”).
Clearly, our nation’s budget priorities aren’t where they should be, and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. agrees. Upon the report’s release, the Education Department issued a statement from King noting that “budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited.”
If we continue to divert resources from public education and allocate them for jails and prisons, mass incarceration will continue to proliferate.
We must increase public education budgets to incorporate the implementation of conflict-resolution models in schools that will help educators address trauma, violence, and misbehavior, among other issues. Such models will function to create safer schools and communities. We must also shift funding from school police officers to counselors, peace builders, and positive-discipline models in schools for the same reason.
The Education Department notes that a key finding in the recent spending report is that “over the past three decades, between 1979-80 and 2012-13, state and local expenditures for P-12 education doubled from $258 billion to $534 billion [in constant dollars], while total state and local expenditures for corrections quadrupled from $17 billion to $71 billion.” Let those numbers sink in.
Our country represents 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we hold more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. We must continue to hold decisionmakers accountable for addressing this systemic problem and demand that our schools receive equitable resources whereby youths can access quality education and be treated with dignity.
Co-Chair, Dignity in Schools Campaign
Executive Director, Racial Justice NOW!
A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2016 edition of Education Week as U.S. Budget Priorities Are Flawed