Thursday, February 20, 2014

School Funding Versus Prison Funding: Forty Years Later

Last year, Kimberly Robinson organized a conference on the 40th anniversary of San Antonio v. Rodriguez.  A collected works book arising out of that conference will be published soon with Yale University Press.  A few law review articles from the conference were also recently published with the Richmond Journal of Law and the Public Interest.  Links to those articles are here.  Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. is included among those authors.  He wrote The Implications of San Antonio Independent Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 17 Rich. J.L. & Pub. Int. 515 (2014).  The article offers a lot of then versus now comparisons, but of particular note, given his criminal justice expertise, is a section on school funding versus prison funding.  He writes:

Despite the steps that have been taken to reduce the funding inequalities between poor and wealth school districts, there has yet to be a diminution in one other important funding disparity: that between prison spending and education spending. State criminal corrections spending has outpaced growth in spending on education, transportation, and public assistance,  and, after adjusting for inflation, state spending on criminal correction has tripled over the past three decades and has become the fasting-growing budgetary expense after Medicaid.  Indeed, according to a review of data from the Department of Justice and the National Education Association, many states spend three to four times more per capita on incarceration than on education. California, the most populous state in the union, spends about $47,000 per inmate while spending approximately $9,000 per student.  New York spends roughly $56,000 per prisoner and about $16,000 for its students, while Georgia and Michigan each spend about a third of the amount on their public school students as they do on their prison populations. 

The same dichotomy between criminal corrections spending and public school spending can be found between criminal corrections spending and higher education spending. Research has shown that, adjusting for inflation, over the twenty-year period from 1987 to 2007 states' corrections spending grew more than the six times more than spending on higher education.  Regionally, the differences between higher education and prison spending were more pronounced. During the same time period, inflation-adjusted prison spending in the Northeast rose sixty-one percent while higher education spending in the region dropped 5.5 percent. In the West, the amount of money allotted to prisons grew 205 percent while money spent on postsecondary education only grew twenty-eight percent. Analysis on the spending disparity between prison and higher education at the state reveals an even more staggering divide. In 2011, California's postsecondary education received thirteen percent less inflation-adjusted dollars than in 1980 while criminal corrections received a 436 percent expansion in funding during the same period. 

In all, the growth in state spending on prisons and criminal corrections has outpaced the growth in education spending. However, unlike the push for funding parity between rich school districts and poor school districts that occurred during the aftermath of Rodriguez, there does not seem to be a concerted, serious push to reverse the trend of the growth in prison spending outpacing the growth in education spending. The policy discussion surrounding the growth in funding of incarceration and education presents a zero-sum proposition, because, unlike the federal government, most states have to balance their budgets. As a result, a dollar spent in one area is a dollar that can no longer be spent in another. The effects of this decision could have significant consequences for the future of the children from poor areas whom Rodriguez litigation aimed to benefit and who have benefitted from the education funding cases post-Rodriguez litigation. Children from low-income areas are at a distinct disadvantage when increases in prison spending result in slower growth or a reduction in education spending. Research has shown that significant concentrations of people going to prison came from poor neighborhoods of color, and in these neighborhoods millions of dollars are being spent to incarcerate its residents. As a result, money spent on incarceration is often the predominant public investment in those communities while education opportunities are dwindling with repeated budget cuts. According to researchers, completing school is a critical protective factor for adolescents who come from troubled neighborhoods. Yet, money is diverted from this resource to incarceration, preventing low-income youth in many areas of the country from having quality access to an effective tool for betterment.

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