Elpidio R. Estioko: Prioritizing priorities: Invest more in education, not in prison
As early as 2010, the issue of which to prioritize – education or prison – already propped up! For management, this is a difficult situation in continuing to manage their respective institutions.
This year-to-date, there have been 71 mass shootings in the US in just 6 weeks, according to Kristi Tanners, Detroit Free Press. “There’s not been any year that we’ve had 67 in six weeks” this early in the year,” said Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening, the number of mass shootings reported and verified by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit formed in 2013 to track gun violence in the U.S, increased to 71.
And… the first mass shooting at a US school this calendar year happened on Monday at Michigan State University where three students were shot to death and five critically injured before a gunman took his own life.
Also, in 2021, after the return to in-person classes, school shootings rebounded. Nationwide, there were 90 school shootings at K-12 schools and on college campuses with at least one injury or fatality from a firearm. Four of those incidents were mass shootings, according to the report.
Last year, the number of school shootings and people killed or injured during those incidents hit a record high – 132 incidents, according to Gun Violence Archive data. Seventy-four people died and 190 were injured by firearms at schools across the country. A dozen of the incidents were mass shootings, including the deadliest school shooting in a decade at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 22 people were killed, including the shooter, and 17 were injured.
More recent incidents were reported to include a January 6 shooting after a high school basketball game at Oak Park High School in Oak Park, Michigan where one student was injured by gunfire. And Monday, a 15-year-old student at Dalhart High School in Dalhart, Texas died after a firearm accidentally discharged inside a vehicle in the high school’s parking lot.
So, is investing in education a priority over investing in prison? As I See It, in answering this question, we need to ask: “Is there a direct relationship between schools and prison?”
Victor Hugo’s 19th century remark seems to be relevant here. He said, “He who opens a school door closes a prison”. Going over crime statistics today and the people allegedly behind them, Hugo’s remarks seem to be true and the relationship is very apparent.
At that time, it was already observed that there were more money going to prisons than in schools, as high-crime neighborhoods are already mounting. Looking at Hugo’s observation, it might be true because the expenditures for education and prison come from the same budget source: the general fund.
Looking at the present time, there were many reported killings and active shooter incidents all over the country that happened, including in schools. So, how do we prioritize our investments?
Our state prisons are congested and this seem to be the way to cut prison population! Kathryn Hanson and Deborah Stipek, in their article published in Mercury News in 2014, titled Schools v. Prisons: Education’s the Way to Cut Prison Population, corroborates the fact that it is a way of cutting prison population. Kathryn Hanson, CEO of ALearn, an educational non-profit dedicated to getting underserved students to college and Deborah Stipek, Dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. in their article, posted this question: Why pay almost seven times the amount for juvenile detention as we do to educate our youth? We know what it takes to educate students well, and the cost is substantially lower than the cost of prison.
According to Steven Hawkins, in his article Education vs. Incarceration, “since 1980, the US Prison population has grown exponentially, expanding from approximately 500,000 to 2.3 million people in just three decades… America spend almost $70 billion annually to place adults in prisons and jails, to confine youth in detention centers, and to supervise 7.3 million individuals on probation and parole”. That’s a lot of money!
The relationship is even made clearer between education and incarceration in the Stanford’s 2014 Cubberley Lecture when Actress Anna Deveare Smith, acclaimed for her roles on TV shows like The West Wing and Nurse Jackie, brought to life the difficulties facing disadvantaged youth in American schools. She is known for “bringing academic rigor to her theatrical creations by portraying the sobering reality of disadvantaged youth caught in the school-to-prison pipeline”. The message was: Deveare Smith challenged us to do better.
The link between a poor education and incarceration was uncovered. Statistics show that dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. Nationally, 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma. Only 20 percent of California inmates demonstrate a basic level of literacy, and the average offender reads at an eighth-grade level.
Okay, while there is no exact way to know the direct connection between education and prison, Hawkins pointed out in his article that, “In Los Angeles, CA, 67 percent of low-performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates. In contrast, 68 per cent of the city’s high performing schools are in the neighborhoods with the lowest incarceration rates”. This might be a yardstick we can use to explain the connection.
Do you know that our failure to invest in education is costly for individuals and taxpayers? According to Scott Graves of the California Budget Project, California is expected to spend more than $62,000 on each prison inmate in 2014-15–almost 7 times the $9,200 it will spend for each K-12 student. Over the past two decades, California spending per prisoner has increased nearly three times faster than spending per K-12 student.
Kathryn Hanson, CEO of ALearn, an educational non-profit dedicated to getting underserved students to college and Deborah Stipek, Dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. in their article, posted this question: Why pay almost seven times the amount for juvenile detention as we do to educate our youth? We know what it takes to educate students well, and the cost is substantially lower than the cost of prison.
The same article raised some observations that may have direct connection with education vs prisons: Tutoring helps students stay on grade level and increases the likelihood of graduation; Counseling can also help keep students on track; California’s student-to-counselor ratio is 50th nationwide, and each California school counselor serves over 1,000 students, far more than the American School Counselor’s recommendation of 250:1 ratio. Studies repeatedly show that high-quality preschool increases chances of high school completion and reduces the likelihood of incarceration. But California lags far behind in providing access to preschool.
My colleagues in the education industry want to spend more for education than in prison. They believe that there is a direct connection between education and prison that’s the reason why they are prioritizing education spending compared to incarceration. Their education priorities on this issue is aligned with Victor Hugo’s remark that: “He who opens a school door closes a prison”.
So, despite the rise of school violence, in the long run, investing in education is more beneficial to the country than in prison!
Agree or disagree?
(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments, email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.)