As Texas legislators looked for budget cuts to close a multibillion-dollar shortfall, some leaders focused on a line item that usually draws little attention: the Windham School District, which received more than $128 million in 2010-11 to provide education to inmates in the state's sprawling prison system, says the Texas Tribune in a story republished in the New York Times.
Lawmakers will most likely cut that number significantly in the 2012-13 budget. “The structure itself screams out for change, screams out for renovation and innovation,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. In 2009-10, 77,500 offenders participated in the program. Despite its sizable budget, a staff of more than 1,200 and a large number of students, Windham awarded just 5,287 G.E.D.'s in the last school year. “It's really outrageous,” said Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Texas could save money, and prisoners could get better educations, some lawmakers say, if programs were provided online. Such programs allow students to learn at their own pace, Shapiro said, and would be better for prisoners. “Putting them in desks and chairs and making them feel like they're in a school surrounding makes them feel stupid,” she said.