State spending on prison inmates outweighs spending on K-12 students

12:07 PM, May 4, 2010   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA -  What the state spends on the correctional system versus K-12 education may surprise you. It's a difference of nearly seven times.

In these difficult economic times, California has made deep cuts to its schools: nearly $18 billion in two years. Some 26,000 teachers have received layoff notices.

Meanwhile, California's prisons house more than 166,000 inmates. There's a federal court push to substantially reduce state prison overcrowding.

Right now, California spends $8.6 billion, or 11 percent of its budget, on state prisons. That works out to an average $52,363 per year to house an inmate in prison, according to the California Department of Corrections. That's $143 a day per prisoner.

"These are the costs of guarding them, providing medical care to them, the cost for the facility," said H.D. Palmer, Deputy Director of Finance for Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The state spent $7,440 per student this school year, according to Proposition 98 state funding. Education for K-12 is nearly $50 billion, or 35 percent of the state budget.

"I think they are going in the wrong direction," said Cassandra Nesler, parent of a first-grade student at William Land Elementary School in Sacramento. "Just this last year, they've taken away the summer program which is really frustrating because he needs extra help."

"Really, if we want to invest in our future, we need to protect spending for education," said Hilary McLean with the California Department of Education.

Of the money spent on prisons, the Department of Corrections says 35 percent goes to pay staff who provide 24-hour security. More than half of the prison budget goes to pay for operations, which includes building maintenance and securing the perimeter of prison facilities.

"It's a pretty high cost. California is the highest cost per inmate," said Paul Golaszewski, a senior fiscal policy analyst with the Legislative Analyst's Office. "Security, health care, multiply that by the number in California prisons."

While the cost of incarcerating an inmate outweighs the cost of educating a student in K-12 in California, the Legislative Analyst's Office stressed there are 6 million students compared to 166,000 inmates.

"There are a lot of things driving the cost of incarcerating an inmate in California," Palmer said.."The governor wants to take steps to bring costs down. That's why he has proposed an $800- million reduction in the department."

A closer look at the state budget shows that higher education in California only accounts for 5 percent of the spending.

Compare the cost of housing a prison inmate in California--$52,363 to room, board, and tuition for one year at a college or university. Some examples:

Stanford: $50,576

University of Pacific: $42,346

Sacramento State University: $14,916

University of Davis, California: $25,580

Schwarzenegger has vowed to fix the imbalance.

In January, the governor proposed a constitutional amendment that would cap correctional budget spending at 7 percent. It would also require at least 10 percent of the budget to be spent on higher education. The state Legislature has yet to take action on that proposal.

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By Suzanne Phan,


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