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Filling jail cells instead of college classes

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DECEMBER 05, 2013

Fellow California residents, you’re paying about $13,000 for tuition. But it’s very possible you could be paying as much as $20,000, because of the drastic cuts the state has been making to education, both higher and K-12.

Just a few years ago, when the state passed its 2007-08 budget, higher education funding comprised 10.3 percent of the state’s general fund, the catchall pot of money that funds most of the state’s programs, including education, corrections and environmental protection. This year, that’s down to 7.8 percent. In 2008, K-12 education spending was 31.2 percent of the state’s general fund. This year, that number has fallen to 27.4 percent. It seems almost unfathomable that the state would be willing to reduce funding for higher education by almost 25 percent at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet. And yet that is exactly what the state chose to do, pushing tuition and other rates even higher. Even K-12 education has seen its funding slashed by almost 20 percent.

An earlier ballot initiative, Proposition 98, was supposed to prevent those kinds of cuts from occurring.

Passed in 1988 to guarantee future funding to K-14 (K-12 and community college) schools, Prop. 98 called for the state Legislature to calculate K-14 spending through a series of formulas based on the previous year’s funding and growth. It was designed to ensure that funding would always increase in lockstep with growth, future-proofing K-14 education in California. But Prop. 98 hasn’t had that effect.

In fact, community colleges have suffered almost as much as K-12 schools have. The state Legislature has slashed support for the Board of Governors of Community Colleges from $5.4 billion in 2007 to $3.9 billion in 2013.

Since 1990, the state’s funding for the UC system has fallen 54 percent. Per-student contributions have fallen to $7,570 in 2010 from $16,430 in 1990. By comparison, California’s GDP in 1990 was roughly $1 trillion and grew to $1.7 trillion by 2010, an increase of almost 64 percent. So while the state’s economy grew rapidly, the state’s funding for the UC system over the same time period was halved. The message that the state is sending with these budget cuts is unmistakable — education is less and less of a priority.

While education suffers massive cuts of more than 20 percent, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has seen its funding increase in leaps and bounds. Our state prisons received more than $11 billion last year, while in 2007, they were receiving more than $1 billion less. And although that change may seem small, it’s an increase that has come in the face of a massive economic downturn and large cuts in other programs. We are second in per-capita spending per inmate, at a rate 56 percent higher than the national average. Simultaneously, we are second to last in per-capita spending per student in K-12 education, spending 28 percent less than the national average.

Our average annual cost per prisoner puts us at sixth in the nation, at a cost of more than $47,000 per prisoner per year, 51.6 percent more than the national average. For each of us, however, the state only offers the UC system $7,570, a measly one-sixth of the amount each inmate costs the state.

And the annual mean wages of our jailers and corrections officers is 53.7 percent higher than the national average and second highest in the nation. At the other end of the spectrum, UC professors earn an average salary that is about $40,000 less than those in comparable positions at private institutions, a gap of almost 25 percent.

We see a chronic overfunding of our jails and prisons while also bearing witness to a chronic underfunding of our public colleges and universities. Just as our jailers are being overpaid, our teachers are being underpaid. Despite our claims that access to quality public education is a right to be exercised by all, we debase those very same values in favor of funding to imprison more and more Californians.

Judging by the way they set priorities, it is almost as if the state is taking our kids from colleges in order to put them behind bars. This is neither justifiable nor sustainable.

The path the state is on is one completely disassociated from our values and priorities. We should not be making it more and more expensive for our children to attend college, but somehow we are. We should not reduce our investment in K-12 education while ramping up funding for jails and prisons.

Education needs to be made a priority in the state of California once more, or else we will be doing a disservice to the coming generations. The world is not a gift from our parents but a loan from our children. It’s time we started behaving that way.

Contact Kevin Gu at 


DECEMBER 04, 2013