Texas spending on prisons and jails is the highest in the nation, a new federal study concludes, and has grown about five times faster than the state’s rate of spending growth on elementary and secondary education over the past three decades, reports the Texas Tribune. The state still spends significantly more on its schools than its prisons. A new analysis of federal data by the U.S. Department of Education found that Texas corrections spending increased by 850 percent between 1989 and 2013, while the rate of funding for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 grew by 182 percent. On average, growth in spending on prisons and jails in other states tripled the rate of growth in funding for public K-12 education over the same period, the report found.
The wide disparity in Texas is caused by the state’s harsh sentencing laws and the strict enforcement of non-violent offenses, which have quadrupled its incarceration rate, the report asserted. Advocates for reforming both schools and criminal justice found ammunition for their arguments in the report. Education advocates said the analysis shows that lawmakers’ should make efforts to cut the incarcerated population and divert funds so schools can be adequately funded. “Texas has chosen to fund public education at low levels for decades, and the result is that we’re increasing the amount of poverty and the high cost of incarcerating young adults,” said Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for more 700 school districts across Texas. “If we would concentrate more on public education as a preventive measure to stop the tide of poverty, we would be able to spend less and save more in the long run.”