By Linda Darling-Hammond
California schools, once among the best in the nation, have fallen to the bottom in spending and achievement over the past decade. These past two years, further deep cuts caused many to shorten the school year, cancel classes, close libraries and lay off thousands of educators. And this past Tuesday, schools took another hit, losing $300 million more in trigger cuts that slashed the state budget yet again.
Ironically, while Republican legislators have prevented a ballot initiative that would allow the people to vote to raise revenues, two-thirds of Californians asserted in a recent USC Dornsife/LA Times poll that they are willing to raise their own taxes in order to invest more in public schools. Furthermore, 71 percent favor putting more education funds in disadvantaged communities, even if it means shifting funds from wealthier communities.
The public seems to recognize that starving schools that serve poor children ultimately feeds a school-to-prison pipeline that harms everyone. The corrections system has quadrupled in size since the 1980s, and now chews up 11 percent of the state budget - more than our public universities - devouring the funds that should go to education.
Most inmates are high school dropouts who are functionally illiterate: We pay nearly $50,000 a year to incarcerate the same young people whom we would not spend $10,000 a year to educate well. Were we to invest in strong schools, these young people could hold down good jobs and contribute to the tax rolls - helping fund the health care, Social Security and other services all of our citizens need.
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