Monday, May 23, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Education, Crime and Shrinking Budgets

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
May 20, 2011

As state policymakers search for an equitable plan to distribute scarce state funds, they would do well not to forget the connection between school dropouts and crime.

Pennsylvania is facing about a $550 million reduction in K-12 instruction as well as the loss of an additional $260 million in grants that were earmarked to reduce class sizes and support pre-K programming.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for the layoff of 4,100 teachers and the elimination of 2,000 positions through attrition. The NYC school chancellor has said that the cuts will increase the average class size to about 26 students.

In California, school districts statewide have struggled over the past two years with unprecedented cuts to staff and services brought on by the state budget crisis, which has dropped funding for k-12 from $46.2 billion to $36.8 billion.

California School Superintendent Jack O’Connell cited enormous state education budget cuts, larger class sizes, fewer art and music classes, cuts to sports, fewer counselors and less access to career/technical courses as contributing to an unacceptably high dropout rate.

Why should policymakers be concerned with educational failure and a surge in dropouts?
High school dropouts are three and one-half times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested, and more than eight times as likely to be incarcerated, according to School or the Streets: Crime and America’s Dropout Crisis. The report was commissioned by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nonprofit anti-crime organization comprised of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders.

The report cites University of California at Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti and Canadian economist Lance Lochner. They found that a 10-percentage point increase in graduation rates could reduce murder and assault rates by as much as 20 percent. Increasing graduation rates by 10-percentage points in Pennsylvania could prevent approximately 147 murders and about 6,000 aggravated assaults each year.

The report also includes evidence from two long-term evaluations of pre-k programs showing that participating in high-quality pre-k increases high school graduation rates by as much as 44 percent.

The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that approximately 34 percent of federal and state inmates and 50 percent of killers on death row lack a high school diploma or GED. Among the general public age 25 and older, about 15 percent have not earned a diploma or GED.

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