With the last fireworks of the Ventura County Fair, summer comes to a close and the school year appears on the horizon. As parents fill their children’s backpacks full of pens, pencils, notebooks, rulers and calculators, the hope of a promising future through hard work and dedication to studying reinvigorates the population after a laid-back summer.
For those who actually read the writing on the wall, however, the reality of our education system isn’t very promising. It is, in fact, a mess. And though some prefer to stay living in a bubble where school budget cuts have no effect on our children, truth be told, California has continuously ranked low in test scores compared to most other states, and it’s among the lowest in per student spending, with more going for prisoners than students and with one of the biggest inmate populations in the country. We have a serious issue going on here, and the attitude seems to be as long as it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, it is affecting everyone and it does matter.
According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, via the National Center for Education Statistics, reading and math scores of fourth- and eighth-graders in California in 2009 ranked 46th out of 50 states. Coincidentally, California ranked among the lowest in per pupil spending over the last several years. Studies conducted by the Education Week and the National Education Association, among others, rank California between 30 and 47 in per pupil spending.
Conversely, various reports indicate that California spends up to six times more on prisoners per year than on K-12 students. It ranks second in the number of inmates, with Texas stealing the top spot. Also, with flawed legislation such as the three-strikes law (see “Three strikes, you’re out,” pg. 15), more prisoners are being incarcerated for longer periods of times and for lesser charges. For instance, if a person has two serious felonies against him or her and commits another felony, serious or not, such as petty theft of more than $950, that person can be sentenced to life in jail. This law has created a substantial burden on the state’s budget, shifting funds from education to our prisons.
California’s priorities are completely mixed up and so we must appeal to our legislators to fix it. We should urge lawmakers to refocus on education and stop making excuses regarding our revenue issues. There is no justification to spend so much more on prisoners when we could focus on keeping the inmate population down. We can vote this November on Proposition 36 and amend the three-strikes law to keep nonviolent, nonserious felons from life in prison sentences. What we can’t do is keep ignoring the situation. As beautiful and rich as this state is, there is no excuse to turn our backs on our children and condone such egregious spending on prisons.