How come we have the money for prisons but not for public education?

According to an article appearing in the Washington Post, since 1980, spending on prisons has grown three times as much as spending on public education. (“State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education”)

By Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel July 7

State and local spending on prisons and jails has grown three times as much over the past three decades as spending on public education for preschool through high school, according to a new analysis of federal data by the U.S. Education Department.

From 1980 to 2013, state and local spending on public schools doubled, from $258 billion to $534 billion, according to the analysis. Over the same period, the number of people incarcerated in state and local prisons more than quadrupled, and spending also increased by more than four times, from $17 billion to $71 billion.

In September, King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, called on states and cities to dramatically reduce incarceration for nonviolent crimes and use the estimated $15 billion in savings to substantially raise teacher pay in high-poverty schools. “With a move like this, we’d not just make a bet on education over incarceration, we’d signal the beginning of a long-range effort to pay our nation’s teachers what they are worth,” Duncan said at the time. “That sort of investment wouldn’t just make teachers and struggling communities feel more valued. It would have ripple effects on our economy and on our civic life.”

The new report found wide variation in spending on prisons and schools among the states: Total corrections spending grew 149 percent in Massachusetts, for example, compared with 850 percent in Texas. Total education spending rose from 18 percent in Michigan to 326 percent in Nevada.

Even taking population and enrollment changes into account, there were striking disparities in the rate of spending increases. The rate of increase in per capita corrections spending outpaced the rate of increase in per-pupil education spending in every state but two, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In 23 states, per capita spending rose more than twice as fast as per-pupil spending.