By the time he reached 10th grade, Joshua Glenn already knew that Philadelphia’s schools didn’t have the support he needed. He was failing math and struggling to get the individual attention he needed in an overcrowded classroom. Fights broke out daily, and the routine morning searches made him feel like a criminal.
Josh had enough to deal with at home – a father killed when he was eight, a mother struggling with drug addiction and raising seven children on her own. He needed extra support at school. Without it, he was unable to focus academically.
Feeling disengaged and hopeless, Josh started getting into fights and was transferred to a discipline school. He felt thrown away by the school system and stopped seeing the point of getting an education. He turned to the streets to support himself and his family. Just after his 16th birthday, Josh was arrested, charged with assault, and sent to Philadelphia’s adult jails.
Josh’s story is just one example of the many young people who are pushed out of Philadelphia’s schools and into its prisons every day. For years, Philadelphia’s children have suffered in a severely underfunded school district. If Governor Corbett has his way, it’s about to get much worse.
In his recent budget address, Corbett proposed slashing basic education funding by over $550 million. In the same budget, the governor would increase the Department of Corrections budget by 11 percent, or $186 million. This is in addition to the $650 million already set aside to build three new state prisons.
A recent study released by the NAACP, “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate,” has brought attention to this issue nationally and highlighted the stark inequality of prison and education spending in Philadelphia. A coalition of organizations, Education Not Incarceration-Delaware Valley, is working to reverse this trend locally by fighting back against Gov. Corbett's recent budget proposal.
According to The Patriot-News, "since 1980, prison spending in Pennsylvania has grown by 1,882 percent, reaching $1.8 billion and rising six times faster than state spending on basic education." Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner recently released a report that said the state could save $50 million in the next fiscal year, and $100 million each of the following three years, by reining in prison growth.
Philadelphia currently spends approximately $150,000 to educate one child from kindergarten through senior year, while taxpayers would pay more than twice that amount - about $330,000 - to incarcerate a person for 10 years.
Many other states have realized that prison expansion is not the answer to crime. In 2009, the national prison population decreased for the first time in almost 40 years. Pennsylvania defied this trend and added more prisoners than any other state. While other states are finding ways to reduce prison populations by enacting smarter, more effective approaches to crime, Pennsylvania is lagging far behind.
Senator Greenleaf recently introduced SB100, known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act. This proposed legislation would take a smarter approach to crime by decreasing the number of people in state prisons on short sentences for non-violent crimes.
In 2007, the General Assembly’s costing out study found that the School District of Philadelphia was underfunded by $1 billion. In the years since, gains have been made towards closing this funding gap, but our schools are still severely underfunded and these cuts will have drastic impacts. Class size will increase, there will be more conflicts, and it will become much more difficult for teachers to cultivate meaningful relationships with students. Ultimately, more students, like Josh, will be pushed out of school and into the prison system.
Gov. Corbett’s budget goes back on the state’s commitment to adequately fund the Philadelphia school system, a move that would be devastating for children, families, and communities across the city. If the governor wants to see young people in Pennsylvania succeed, he should instead support SB100 and similar initiatives, fully fund public education, and cancel the state’s expensive prison construction plans.
Now 22, Josh has become an organizer with the Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, and is helping keep other young people out of prison. On April 26, he will be marching in Harrisburg with the Education Not Incarceration-Delaware Valley coalition and many other organizations to demand that the state prioritize education over prison expansion. He hopes that people around the state will join him in this fight.
Education Not Incarceration-Delaware Valley’s members include the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Student Union, Reconstruction Inc., the Support Center for Prison Advocacy, Teacher Action Group, Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project, and Youth United for Change. ENI-DV is available via email.
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