Friday, July 23, 2010

Education vs. Prisons

A construction I've seen quite frequently recently during budget debates at all levels of government has been how to relatively prioritize jails and prisons vs. schools. KLTV out of Tyler has a story titled "New jails vs. new schools an ongoing battle" (7/22), in which members of the commissioners court declared one reason they don't want to take jail bonds to voters is the likelihood that Tyler ISD will put additional bonds on the November ballot and voters would choose schools over a jail.
The, seemingly age-old Smith County battle could wage on again come election time: new schools versus new jail.

Battle lines are already being drawn... ...and early... ...from the bench...

"If TISD puts on a bond election at the same time, then I see the jail failing," said Precinct 4 Commissioner JoAnn Hampton.

"Those cute little rosy-cheeked kids, or a bunch of people in our jail house? I know who they're going to vote for and so do you," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bill McGinnis.

"They're going to win every time," said voter, Charles Smart. "They have so far."

Smart says if the last $60,000,000 jail plan was not up against Tyler ISD's nearly $125,000,000 plan, it may have passed.

The idea of another ballot face-off is weighing heavy.
Meanwhile, Newsweek had a recent story focused on California and other states struggling to balance prison spending and higher education ("Classrooms or prison cells," June 28). According to Newsweek the issue is being raised by (among others) a prominent transplanted Texan:
It may seem odd that state funding for college kids often competes with money for prisoners, but if you track spending in California over the past 30 years, you’ll see evidence of a long-standing tug of war between these two very different constituencies. Over much of the past decade, funding for corrections has gone steadily up, while spending on state colleges has tumbled. “The state seems to be saying we have more of a future in prisons than in universities,” University of California president Mark Yudof said in a recent speech.
Newsweek included this extraordinary graphic outlining the near-explicit tradeoff in California:

It would be quite a chore to compile the data, but given the expansion of Texas prisons in the past 30 years, plus the fact that Texas universities have become so much more tuition-reliant, I would be surprised if a comparable chart for Texas failed to display essentially similar trends.

Education, particularly higher ed, is an economic investment in human capital, while prisons remove workers and money from the economy and reduce overall consumption and production. So the question arises, when money is tight, where should the state prioritize its spending? Mass incarceration is a rich nation's game. When money is scarce and the tradeoff becomes explicit, investing in education over prisons makes a lot more sense.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the "relative return on investment" argument is all that sound, given the poor performance of prisons AND the poor performance of public education with the dropout rate, failure to obtain high school degrees vs. GED's, need for heavy remediation after high school as well as the argument about the practical value of bachelors degrees. Seems to me that neither emperor is wearing any clothes.

Prisons may not be a good investment, but "more money for schools" has not been over the past several decades, either. Both need a new paradigm.

Hook Em Horns said...

"It would be quite a chore to compile the data, but given the expansion of Texas prisons in the past 30 years, plus the fact that Texas universities have become so much more tuition-reliant, I would be surprised if a comparable chart for Texas failed to display essentially similar trends."
Tough on crime + prison crazed = Texas!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good point, 11:30. That distinction is why I said "particularly higher ed" when I made the relative return on investment argument. On K-12 I pretty much agree with you they need to fix the broken system more than (or at least as much as) they need more money.

Anonymous said...

It really bothers me that people are quoted in this article saying that they don't want something on a ballot against something else because we already know how the people will vote. If they already know the will of the people (which they are SUPPOSE to represent) why would they not represent what the people want. How do you say we already know what our voters want which is why they don't get a choice? If their plan is so much better than putting money in to education maybe they should promote that plan, debate the plan and let the people decide. Isn't that how democracy is suppose to work?

Anonymous said...

In general, when you have two bond elections, psychologically speaking they oppose one another. This dichotomous thinking makes the voter feel like they have to choose either/or, without realizing they have a third choice - neither. Unfortunately, a school bond is more likely to get passed when "opposed" by a less "rosey" opponent such as a jail bond, then if the school bond were on the ballot all by itself. For whatever reasons, it's human nature to think in dichotomies. By the way, have you seen those new schools they are putting up in Tyler? Outrageous! They are too extravegant! When they demolished the old schools, they left all the furniture and equipment inside - such a waste!

Anonymous said...

Commissioners complained about "Groundhog Day" and doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So they are just going to ram it through.
It never occurs to them to ACTUALLY try something different and reduce the incarceration rate.

Ignoring the low-hanging fruit in front of their faces.

Anonymous said...

I think you're wrong, 5:23. The commissioners would like to pursue the jail diversion plans, but the judges that are making the bonds, sentences, etc. do not want these. As ex-commissioner Fleming, the judges and the DA are all unapproachable and unwilling to work together.

cjSweetwater said...

As a subatance abuse counselor who works with offenders and ex-offenders I find it quixotic that we talk about either or in the case of corrections vs education. Studies show that generally the higher the level of education the lower the chances of drug use and recidivism. In addition, it has been proven time and again that adequate treatment of offfenders for substance abuse related issues is a much more cost effective way to go than to warehouse them in our wonderful bed and breakfast system. So why are we not putting more emphasis on prevention, treatment, and education. We already have far too many prisons in Texas. We need to concentrate on something that works. Individuals who do need "corrections" and who have non-violent drug related charges should be diverted into treatment and community corrections programs. I know...I's the money grubbin prison complex. Changes need to be made...for a lot of reasons.

Anonymous said...

Tisk tisk tisk

Higher Education in California is budgeted $40,635,132 for the 2010/11 FY.

Corrections in California is budgeted $12,210,916 for the 2010/11 FY

Took all of 30 seconds on google to debunk your graphic.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

farmerguy, the data Newsweek published came straight from Gov. Schwarzenegger, who cited those numbers in a speech. Why don't you send your tsk's his way? From Newsweek:

“What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns?” Schwarzenegger said, adding that “30 years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education. Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future.” The state’s priorities, he added, “have become out of whack.”

I do notice that the Newsweek graphic cites only a percentage of the "General Fund," while the state funds number you cite also include "special funds, and selected bond funds." That could be the source of the difference.

Anonymous said...

"special funds" probably includes the universities' endowments. General funds come from taxes.

Anonymous said...

2:33 you're just wrong. They absolutely did not leave all the equipment and furniture in the old schools when they were demolished. I live near one and watched them move it all for weeks. Spreading lies like that is reprehensible.

Anonymous said...

1:27 is right. You really should be spreading lies unless you're in elected office. Then it's okay.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say:

1:27 is right. You really shouldn't be spreading lies unless you're in elected office. Then it's okay.