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Education for Prisoners Should NOT Be Pitted Against Pre-School, Post-Secondary Education

January 16, 2016

I was pleased to read Jack Jenkins ThinkProgress post reporting earlier this week that Governor Cuomo is continuing to push to provide funds to educate prisoners in NYS despite previous rebuffs by the legislature in his state. His post emphasized the disproportionate number of black and Latino men who were incarcerated and provided links to reports that substantiated the fact that educated parolees have lower recidivism rates than those who lack education and skills to find employment once they are released from prison. Clearly logic and data support the idea that providing prisoners with the chance to earn high school diplomas and post secondary degrees pays for itself… but…

I can recall when MD put an end to offering community college courses in prisons and also recall that education associations found themselves in a quandary when the legislation cutting those funds was proposed. Why? Because the legislature was looking for ways to cut education and if they didn’t make the cuts in the prisons they might have to make the cuts to public schools or to community colleges who provide an education to students who followed the law. The callers to the local talk radio stations were particularly upset about “giving prisoners a free education” when they knew kids who were taking on part-time jobs to pay their way through the local community college. Cuomo faces an even more daunting challenge in providing funds to prisoners: he wants to also expand pre-school education and avoid shifting more and more costs to local taxpayers for K-12 education for fear it will undercut his future elections.

As one who believes all levels of schooling require more funds, I would encourage Mr. Cuomo to propose some way to increase funding for all schools…. And where might he find the money for this? My thought would be to look at “economic development”, which is a term used to describe the de facto subsidies the governments offer to business. And how much does NYS budget for that?

The Executive Budget recommends over $1.9 billion for ESD (Empire State Development). This is a net increase of $575 million from the 2014-15 budget. To write out those numbers: over $1,900,000,000 billion for ESD, which is a net increase of $575,000,000. $15,000,000— or 2.6%— of that increase would have funded this initiative…. and 65% of that increase could have doubled the implementation rate of the Governor’s pre-kindergarten initiative. But businesses need the money more than preschoolers and certainly more than the prisoners!

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