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Slicing the Appropriations Pie:  
Corrections vs. Education

By Cherrie Greco

 

A Good Case for Corrections

During the next few months, state legislatures across the country will examine the ever decreasing appropriations pie and agonize about how to fairly divide its wedges. To believe in a representative form of government is to have faith elected officials will adequately fund programs and services. However, every year, renewed concerns for increased health care costs, aging transportation systems, unprecedented need for mental health and social services programs, along with all other complexities of passing a balanced budget, cripple and polarize the players during a messy process where final budget outcomes eventually fall short.

Advocates on all sides raise valid arguments about the need to increase their particular slice of pie. While citizens rarely have a full understanding about the way a state agency operates, they are opinionated and vocal about their perception of waste and how to create efficiencies. Two areas of any state’s budget heavily scrutinized by the public and areas often pitted against each other during annual legislative figure setting are Corrections and Education.

 

Public safety is the first function of government. The ability of citizens to move about freely and safely is necessary to engage in contracts, practice commerce, work, interact with educational and religious institutions and enjoy family life. Never before has that become so important than today when mass murders in America’s public places seem to be the new normal. Corrections agencies are typically blamed for offender population growth and prison overcrowding, leading to their justification for a large piece of the budget’s pie. However, prison administrators have no control over who is sentenced to their supervision or for how long. Instead, their job is to protect the public by managing offenders in a safe and humane environment, regardless of the number coming through the door. The fact remains that Corrections, the third leg of the criminal justice system, must be adequately funded; otherwise, temporarily plugging the holes in the dyke will risk staff and offender safety on a daily basis and ultimately take more of the budget in the long run.

 

Distinct offender population groups have emerged, requiring specialized and costly correctional supervision:  those with a high propensity for violence, youthful offenders, female populations, the geriatric and disabled, mentally ill and others. These populations are housed in aging facilities, manned around the clock by underpaid staff, who need advanced training in offender management and best correctional practices. Strict conditions of confinement standards must be met by prisons and jails; otherwise, lawsuits and sanctions result. Because most offenders leave prison and re-enter society, literacy programs, sex offender and substance abuse treatment, job skills, parenting, family reunification and other preparations must be funded for an offender’s eventual transition. If not, and without the necessary tools to face the outside world, there is no reason to believe these men and women won’t re-offend, re-victimize and return to prison, merely adding to the numbers. When budgets are tight, these programs are the first to be eliminated.  

 

A Better Case for Education

Every child living in America is entitled to a K-12 free and public education. They are entitled to the best opportunities for academic, vocational, social, recreational and civic experiences money can buy. They are entitled to the most highly prepared and talented teachers money can buy, teachers who can inspire them, model principle-centered character traits and communicate subject content using the best methods to reach all. Unfortunately, in over-crowded classrooms with fewer available certified teachers for hire, unqualified and temporary para-professionals can only be expected to have marginal outcomes. Coupled with the lack of materials and resources, many children will fail on all fronts. Without adequate funding, districts will experience high rates of student and staff absenteeism, low morale, higher dropout rates, and incidents of school violence. The children with the greatest academic and social challenges will likely get lost, suffering in many ways. These children will fail to thrive, experience a loss of self-esteem and lack basic literacy skills as they become the next generation of workers. Without appropriate interventions, many will follow a doomed path to criminal thinking and activity and eventually incarceration. The most talented teachers will grow weary of their financial condition and leave the profession for higher-paid occupations, and those employers will be lucky to have them. “At $41,483, the average salary for teachers in Oklahoma is the lowest in the country. There has been progress in Oklahoma, however. State legislators approved a $6,100 pay raise for teachers in March, though this will only boost pay to the sixth-lowest in the country.” [1]

 

Over the past several years, continued cuts to higher education have caused college and university budgets to rely more heavily upon donor gifts. As a result, student tuition and fees have increased to the extent that graduates begin new lives and new jobs faced with massive debt and years of loan re-payments. Ongoing maintenance of millions of square feet under roof, plus upgrades to stay current, and new capital construction projects, require competing for dollars at every turn. Colleges and universities must engage in aggressive recruitment strategies in order to increase or maintain student enrollment, both in traditional campus settings or through other instructional platforms. Even then, and not surprisingly, the number of students motivated to enter teacher prep programs is dwindling. Large class sizes, low pay, personal safety, and the need to take on second jobs are some factors leading to the current national teacher shortage. Regardless, society expects college graduates to be prepared to assume occupational roles as professionals, adapting quickly and with sophistication, even for those jobs which have yet to be invented.  

 

Most states have complicated formulas for funding education; following the money is tricky. Likewise, balancing the need to fund Corrections creates a strain on other agencies lining up for their slices of the budget pie too. However, one thing is certain:  education is king, and its price is king-sized. Why wouldn’t it be? Education creates a greater awareness for the world and finds solutions to problems. It advances social and economic conditions, knowledge and is the only institution that helps this country become a better place in which to live, and a better place to make a living.


[1]Sestric, Lisa.  Here’s How Much Teachers Make in Every State. (2018, August 3). In GoBankRates, MSN Money. Retrieved November 11, 2018 from https://www.gobankingrates.com/making-money/jobs/average-teacher-salary-by-state/#37

 

About the Author

Cherrie (Dixon) Greco, Northwestern class of 1969, is a retired correctional administrator from the Colorado Department of Corrections where she served as Director of Administration, Warden, Legislative Liaison and Director of Staff Training. Later, she worked as a senior consultant for MGT of America and provided technical assistance and expert witness services to a number of state corrections agencies, jails and the U.S. Department of Justice. Greco also served as Director of Probation for Oklahoma County, and from 2011-2015 she was a columnist for CORRECTIONSONE.COM. Prior to her career in corrections, she and her late husband, James Greco, a 1970 graduate of Northwestern, and their two sons lived in eight states as a result of Jim’s employment with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and his military service, LTC, USAR.  During that time, Greco was employed as a high school language arts teacher. Greco currently resides in Oklahoma and was recently appointed to the Northwestern Foundation Executive Committee. In addition to a B.A.Ed. from Northwestern, she holds an M.A.Ed. from Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass.

 

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