Friday, February 5, 2021

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

Matthew T. Mangino
February 5, 2021

Gov. Tom Wolf recently unveiled, as part of his 2021-22 budget, a plan to invest $1.3 billion in public schools. 

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, which advocates for raising the high school graduation rate, 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. 

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, shows 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.

In Pennsylvania, and across the country, the potential savings from an increase in the male high school graduation rate could be 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. 

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.

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and an adjunct professor at Thiel College in Mercer County.

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