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Complete Sentences: Turning Students Into Prison Inmates

by guest editor Margo Freistadt School Issues Center

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the average cost of housing a single inmate in a U.S. prison is between $22,000 and $25,000 a year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2002, the average expenditure for educating an elementary or secondary student in the United States was $6,911… Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from Margo Freistadt's solution to California's school budget crisis! A simple solution would avert the budget disaster facing California's schools: We should declare every public school to be a prison. The kids would understand.

Details need to be worked out, but I want every child in California to be given a 13-year prison sentence at age 5, with the possibility of a four-year extension.

Look What She Starr-ted!

Margo Freistadt is a copy editor at The San Francisco Chronicle.

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That way, the $7,000 the state spends per student each year could immediately be raised to $27,000 -- what the state spends on each inmate annually. And our criminally under-funded schools would qualify for the only category in the governor's proposed budget that's slated to get more money this year.

Gov. Gray Davis is asking for a 1 percent budget increase for the California Department of Corrections. Meanwhile, our schools are flinching at threats of abusive slashes in state support.

Given the alternative of layoffs, more crowded classrooms, fewer teachers' aides, and disappearing supplies, school officials should jump for joy at the chance for their district's schools to be transformed into prisons and their students to become inmates.

My daughter's middle school in San Francisco would be renamed Herbert Hoover Juvenile Correctional Institution. Her brother's elementary school could be Buena Vista Juvenile Redirective Ranch. The university from which my sister just graduated would become the California Honor Farm at Davis.

The benefits are many.

Elementary schools in San Francisco haven't been staffed with school nurses for many years. Recent court cases, however, have set minimal levels for acceptable health care for prisoners. If schools suddenly became prisons, students would be entitled to the same health-care standards.

Prison nurses would step in and school secretaries, administrators, and teachers' aides could get back to educating -- instead of tending to the endless parade of students needing Band-Aids, ice packs, lice checks, and help with their asthma inhalers.

Labor relations and staff morale would improve. Math, science, and English teachers could sign on as members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents prison guards. The union, which has given $3 million to Davis campaigns since 1998, has the clout to keep salaries growing and benefits flowing.

The prison guards union's Web site used to brag that its members earned higher salaries than teachers in California. That boast, wisely, has disappeared from the site. Nonetheless, if our schools became prisons and our teachers were covered by the same union contracts as prison guards, educators would get the immediate raises they deserve.

Prison guards deserve every penny they get. It's a tough and stressful line of work, often unappreciated by the inmates and their families. Sound like a teacher's job?

From Lakeshore Elementary Jail to Lowell State Penitentiary, wardens and their little inmates should move quickly to get formal status under the California Department of Corrections. Otherwise, county hospitals and nursing homes might beat them to it.

This article is reprinted, with permission, from The San Francisco Chronicle.

The opinions expressed in StarrPoints are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Education World.



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The opinions expressed in Starr Points are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Education World.