Saturday, February 6, 2021

MCN/USA TODAY: An investment in education is an investment in crime prevention

Matthew T. Mangino
February 5, 2021

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recently unveiled, as part of his 2021-22 budget, a plan to invest $1.3 billion in public schools. As part of the initiative the governor has also taken on a taboo subject - increased taxes.

“My legislative plan is an investment in Pennsylvania’s students, but really it’s an investment in the future for all of us - for every Pennsylvanian,” said Wolf.

Investments are typically made with an eye toward cashing in. Can an investment in education pay dividends?

Several years ago the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that America could save billions of dollars in annual crime costs if school districts could raise the male high school graduation rate. While graduation rates have increased according to a 2019 Alliance report, males and “historically underserved students” have lagged behind.

“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward … a career and away from crime and prison,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”

There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the principal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from school across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that nearly a quarter of a million students are annually referred to law enforcement.

There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates - particularly among males. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 56% of federal inmates, 67% of inmates in state prisons, and 69% of inmates in local jails did not complete high school.

The Alliance for Excellent Education found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. Annual incidences of assault, larceny, motor vehicle thefts and burglaries could see significant reductions.

In Pennsylvania, and across the country, the potential savings from an increase in the male high school graduation rate could save literally hundreds of millions of dollars in crime-related costs and produce millions in earnings and tax revenue from individuals who are employed rather than incarcerated.

There is more to the crime and education connection than just coursework and passing grades. The combination of largely unnoticed actions undertaken by individual schools affects education climates for millions of students in thousands of schools across the country. These school climates, in turn, often profoundly affect student performance.

The school-to-prison pipeline is fueled, in part, by “zero-tolerance” policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary practices. The involvement of law enforcement in traditional matters of school discipline has soared as school districts across the country expanded the use of armed police officers in schools.

The nightly news is flooded with stories like the 7-year-old North Carolina boy with autism, whose mother said he was overwhelmed by the “comings and goings in his classroom,” and began spitting inside his special needs school.

The “school resource officer” arrived on the scene, put the boy in handcuffs, and pinned him to the ground, according to body-cam footage of the September 2018 incident that was recently published by WSOC-TV.

This pattern is all too familiar. Just this week, police pepper sprayed a 9-year-old New York girl during a family disturbance outside of school.

An investment in education is an investment in crime prevention. The potential to save money, generate revenue and minimize the anguish that comes with victimization is too important to ignore.

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