Texas is Pumping Money Into Prisons Faster Than Schools

Texas is Pumping Money Into Prisons Faster Than Schools
Wikimedia Commons | Robert Stringer
Texas' financial investment in jails and prisons has grown dramatically faster than its spending on education.

From 1979 to 2013, money spent on prisons in Texas grew by 850 percent, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education. Back in '79 and 1980, the state spent nearly $15 million on education compared to just over $600,000 on correctional facilities. In 2012-13, education dollars hovered just below $42 million while spending on prisons grew to nearly $6 million.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said the research shows how misguided this country's priorities are. 

“For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children’s future," he said in a statement. "We need to invest more in prevention than in punishment, to invest more in schools, not prisons.”

Public school districts in Texas have sued the state multiple times for decades arguing that the way it funds schools is unconstitutional. In May, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state's system meets the state constitution's bare minimum requirements. That same month, the National Education Association released its annual ranking of how much states pay per pupil and Texas ranked 38th in spending just at under $9,000 per student, about $3,000 less than the national average.

Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, a nonprofit that advocates for school districts in the state, told the Texas Tribune that public education is a preventive measure to stop poverty, which saves taxpayer dollars in the long run.

“Texas has chosen to fund public education at low levels for decades, and the result is that we’re increasing the amount of poverty and the high cost of incarcerating young adults,” Pierce told the Trib.

The U.S. Department of Education's study echoes that statement and its authors say states should increase investment in education to improve career outcomes for at-risk children and youth.

The findings also seem to conflict with "The Texas Model" of prison reform. Through a series of measures like increased use of drug treatment and pre-trial diversion programs, the state's inmate population decreased from 173,000 people in 2010 to 168,000 in 2013, The Washington Post reported. By 2016, the inmate population dropped to just over 143,000. The numbers do not include local and federal inmates; according the the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total amount of inmates in lockups across Texas in 2014 was 699,300.

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, told the Tribune yesterday that lawmakers need to address tough sentencing guidelines and expand drug treatment courts to reduce the cost of incarceration.

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