The United States: First In Prisons, Last In Education
The strike in Chicago is one of the state's first in 25 years. The need for schools that not only are able to pay good wages to teachers and are able to provide the necessities for a substantial education isn't in question; it is vital to the livelihood of all who live in the state. The problem of the education crisis, however, does not only apply to Chicago - it is a national crisis that deserves national attention.
Currently, American presidential candidates, district officials and lobbyists are campaigning on multiple issues, including immigration, abortion and job security. Yet, any time these public officials mention education, it is with the object of decreasing, rather than increasing its accessibility.
America's education system is failing. Last week, ThinkProgress reported that education budgets are being cut in 26 states. The cuts affect students at all academic levels, but specifically those in the K-12 system. In each of the 26 states, the amount of money allocated for schools per student will decrease. Schools and administrators nationwide will now be unable to provide basic resources for current and incoming students. Multiple after school, music and art programs are threatened with cancellation, while an enriched curriculum that helps students adjust to an increasingly technological world seems beyond reach for thousands of inner-city youths, many of whom have a better chance at landing in the petitionary than at obtaining a higher education.
According the Pew Research Center, in 2010 the United States prison system housed 1.6 million inmates. That number has grown to over 2.2 million in 2012. Each year, at least 44 billion dollars is spent on running correctional facilities in the United States - an increase of over 30 billion dollars since 1987. As the Huffington Post reports:
"From 1987 to 2007, nationwide spending on corrections increased by 127 percent, while there was only a 21 percent increase in spending on higher education."
This averages out to above $37,000 per inmate per year. However, the United States spends under $9,000 per student per year. The trend of yearly increases in prison spending has undoubtedly led to the growing education divide. The United States ranks 43rd in the world in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in education. Budget cuts continue to affect the root of the country's survival - because education is the foundation on which every country stands. The ability for all citizens to obtain a quality education isn't only beneficial to the individual, families and communities, but also to the entire nation.
This issue, however, isn't isolated to the K-12 system. Higher education is also taking an extreme hit. My alma mater, Santa Monica College, is cutting winter enrollment, an action that is expected to affect over 10,000 students on track to transfer to four-year institutions. This cut, however, isn't the first.
Just five years ago, before multiple major budget cuts made the situation worse, it was difficult to even obtain a spot in a class because classes filled up quickly as a result of teachers' limited hours, limited numbers of counselors and limits to entering educational programs that were swamped with participants. Now, five years later, classes are being cut and the loss of even more programs are causing many students to either wait to attend college, or cease to attend altogether.
College is becoming a first come, first serve institution, often catering to those by whose admission the college's bottom line would receive a boost. Yearly, public and state institutions decrease their in-state enrollment limits, causing many citizens to fear that their chances of receiving a higher education are shrinking.
So, for whom is higher education actually designed? Looking at the numbers, it seems it's designed for a) those who can afford it, and b) those who have enough structural support, resources and familial guidance to not end up in jail.
If the United States continues to invest in the incarceration of youth instead of in their education, citizens can expect more teachers to follow the protesters in Chicago, more failure within the American education system and more crime. The NAACP recently reported that Los Angeles alone spends $1 billion per year on prisons, and that 69 percent of locations with the lowest-scoring schools had the highest incarceration rates. Unfortunately, the NAACP's reports reflect this same statistic for the states of Texas, Pennsylvania and numerous others.
The development of the three strikes law, the war on drugs and other incarceration-focused legislation together have contributed to an increase of over one million inmates in a 15-year span. With the accompanying increase in the rate of spending on prisons, combined with limits to education programming, it's safe to assume that 10 years from now, America will be ranked even lower in education and its public universities will no longer be institutions devoted to the education of a majority of American citizens.
The United States cannot continue to grow if it stays on this trajectory. Ultimately, American citizens will be ill-equipped for a growing number of the nation's jobs, and without any clear indication of their ability to achieve any of their dreams, let alone the American one.