By Olivia Niland

As California Gov. Jerry Brown continues to emphasize a commitment to shrinking state prison populations and reinvesting in California’s flagging K-12 public school system, advocates on both sides of the issue are calling for a reevaluation of the state’s funding priorities.

Despite its dwindling prison population, the state’s correctional system budget has grown inversely in recent years, saddling California with one of the nation’s highest gaps between per-student and per-prisoner spending. Between the 1994-95 and 2013-14 fiscal years, spending for each of California’s K-12 students rose just under 18 percent, according to research conducted by California Budget Bites.

The state’s funding for public education, which has grown only marginally in the past two decades, has long frustrated parents, educators and lawmakers. But with California’s 2013-14 per-prisoner spending projected to rise, despite the state’s push to slim-down its overpopulated prisons, education advocates are more vocal than ever about addressing the increasing gap between California school system and prison system spending.

Though education advocacy groups have argued that the discrepancy between per-prisoner and per-student spending indicates that the California corrections system is draining funding from the education system, experts disagree. There is neither data to suggest that prisons deter state dollars from schools, nor any guarantee that reducing funding for prisons would increase funding for schools.

Currently, California’s K-12 public education system is ranked among the worst in the nation per-student spending, in addition to student attendance, student-to-teacher ratios, standardized test scores. In January 2013, Education Week’s annual Quality Counts Report ranked the state’s 2010 per-pupil spending 49th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

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(First published by Neon Tommy)

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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