w Prof Blog
By Derek Black
July 8, 2016
"... on average, state and local higher education funding per FTE student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent."
The growing common refrain, urged on by no less than candidates for the presidency, has been to contrast our nation's investments in education versus incarceration. Civil rights advocates have, likewise, lamented the school-to-prison pipeline that is, no doubt, affected by these investments.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released some cold hard facts substantiating these notions. Quite frankly, the numbers were shocking even to me.
Among the highlights were the following:
- From 1979–80 to 2012–13, public PK–12 expenditures increased by 107 percent (from $258 to $534 billion),4 while total state and local corrections expenditures increased by 324 percent (from $17 to $71 billion) ― triple the rate of increase in education spending.
- Over the same 33-year period, the percentage increase in state and local corrections expenditures varied considerably across the states, ranging from 149 percent in Massachusetts to 850 percent in Texas. PK–12 expenditure growth rates were considerably lower, but still varied widely across states, ranging from 18% in Michigan to 326% in Nevada.
- All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education.
- From 1989–90 to 2012–13, 46 states reduced higher education appropriations per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. On average, state and local higher education funding per FTE student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent.
The study also drew on social science literature to suggest the effects of these funding trends:
Researchers have found connections between poor educational outcomes and incarceration. Among state prison inmates, available data suggests that two-thirds have not completed high school (BJS 2009). . . . Researchers have estimated that a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates may result in 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates (Lochner and Moretti 2004).
A variety of studies have suggested that investing more in education, particularly targeted toward at-risk communities, could achieve crime reduction without the heavy social costs that high incarceration rates impose on individuals, families, and communities (Belfield et al. 2006; Reynolds et al. 2001; Heckman et al. 2010).
Investments in education can reduce criminal activity by altering student behavior and improving labor market outcomes (CEA 2016). Investments in early childhood education can lead to reduced incarceration later in life, in part through improving educational attainment (Currie 2001). . . Evidence also shows that education provides a pathway to help justice-involved people restore full participation in their communities.
For example, one study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in high-quality correctional education — including post-secondary correctional education — were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than those who did not participate in correctional education programs (Davis et al. 2013).
Furthermore, researchers estimate that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year recidivism costs (Davis et al. 2013).
This study also dovetails perfectly with yesterday's post about the NEA's policy position on school discipline. At its core, that policy statement makes two points: current discipline policy is devastating educational outcomes for millions of students each year, and reversing that course requires specific investments in education, most notably teacher training and development.
If you buy that proposal, it is no surprise what the Department of Education's study suggested the money spent on incarceration ought to be put to:
"Though many factors contribute to student success, research indicates that teacher effectiveness is perhaps the most important in-school factor related to students’ success in school (Rivkin et al. 2005). Further, research suggests that investing more in teacher salaries could result in an overall improvement in the quality of the teaching workforce and that higher salaries are associated with higher teacher retention (Dee and Wyckoff 2015; Kelly 2004; Guarino et al. 2006)."
In other words, not only are we driving money toward incarceration, the money we drive is likely a key factor in why we have unresolved discipline challenges in schools. Those unresolved education issues fuel the school-to-prison pipeline, creating a vicious circle that we cannot seem to escape.
This vicious circle lies at the core of the final chapters of my book, Ending Zero Tolerance, and my forthcoming article, Reforming School Discipline. In them, I argue that school quality conversations and school funding litigation must incorporate school discipline concerns. We cannot continue to discuss them as separate issues. Social science firmly demonstrates how closely connected discipline and school quality are. One cannot be improved without the other.
Unfortunately, this new federal study suggests our funding patterns are making both worse. It is time to finally start connecting the dots.