One has to wonder how we have gotten to the place in Alabama where the need for funding our prison system gets more attention from some persons in positions of leadership than does the need for adequate funding of public education. For years most political leaders in our state have claimed that public education was the top priority for them. But when you look at how we have funded education in the past, and then look at the financial mess we now have in Alabama, it’s evident that education hasn’t been our state’s top priority.
When you compare the annual expense of housing an inmate in Alabama with what we spend each year to educate a young person in our public schools in grades K through 12, it certainly appears that we have our priorities out of kilter. Over the last few years, in many states there has been an escalation of spending by state governments for prisons. Even though in Alabama we haven’t seen that sort of funding, the prison system’s needs get plenty of media attention. It’s evident that the way we have neglected public education in our state has had an adverse impact on both education and the prison system.
It’s not surprising to learn that studies show there is a definite connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools. I am convinced that if we would increase spending significantly for grades K-12, and also for vocational education programs, our inmate populations over time would be sharply reduced. Of course, strict accountability must also be a part of spending of funds in education at every level. In any event, it’s time we really made education the top priority in Alabama!
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