We have all heard the adage that a society is judged by how it treats its children. Somewhere along the way, we here in the USA have gone wildly astray. We can all argue over philosophy and politics, and we can, and do, argue over budget and spending.
However, we cannot argue over the facts, and the facts are clear. According to the National Center for Education Statistics we spent $10,297 per student to educate our next generation in the school year 2007/8. That same year, according to CNN Money, we spent $18,500 to keep each prisoner in the USA in jail and that does not include the cost for court appointed attorneys and other “special items.” According to one source, local, state and the Federal Government combined
spent another $5,500 per prisoner on free legal services. That adds up to $24,000 per prisoner. By these numbers our prisoners are worth an average of 133% more to us than our children. Does that seem like the right way to be spending our precious capital?
But that’s not all. Every prisoner in the USA receives free health care! Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau approximately 25% of all children in the USA have NO HEALTH INSURANCE.
Now let’s look at Congress. A recent posting on Huffington Post lists the Congressional operating budget as just north of $4.5 billion or $8.2 million per member of Congress, but I don’t hear anyone on the “hill” talking about that. So, we spend $8.2 million per member of Congress and well over $24,000 per prisoner but just a meager $10,297 per student on education.
Is it any wonder that according to the OCED the USA ranks 33 in “reading, scientific and mathematical literacy scores” behind such great examples of compassionate societies as the Slavic Republic and the Russian Federation?
We the people should be outraged by this but we are not. Moreover, every budget balancing proposal I have seen starts with cutting educational funds.
It is interesting to watch the demonstrations on Wall Street and in other major cities, but they lack focus. So I have a focus to propose to them. Let’s focus on rebuilding and reinvigorating our educational system.
Here are four recommendations which can be implemented starting immediately if we have the will to do so:
1) Prisoners do not have an inalienable right to watch TV or have a gymnasium especially while many athletic programs and child enrichment programs are being cut from school budgets and they do not have an inalienable right to “good food” while many of America’s poorest children survive on peanut butter and pretzels. They gave up these rights when they committed a crime. Let’s immediately begin a plan to reduce prison spending by eliminating all of these “benefits and re-channeling all the funds into educational program. We can easily cut 15% out of all prison spending and prisoner support and that would yield somewhere around $7.5 billion.
2) Let’s force Congress into the same austerity measures they are forcing on us…reduce their travel benefits and make them pay their own way. According to “Roll Call” some $15 million was spent last year on foreign travel alone and almost $40 million on domestic travel. Let’s take that $55 million and add it to the education budget…at their annual salaries of $174,000 each they can well afford airplane tickets, and fly coach like the rest of us.
3) Let’s move immediately to cut their Congressional staff by 25% they will still have plenty of sycophants running around doing nothing. Right now each Representative has a budget allowance of $831,252 for staff and each Senator has between $2.4 million and $3.7 million depending on the size of their state. A 25% reduction across the board would deliver $190 Million
4) Let’s put all prisoners and all members of Congress on the same Medicare/Medicaid program they allocate to us as citizens. Based on estimates from the Pugh Charitable trust, this could reduce expenditures by some $45 million a year.
Just these changes, which I believe are reasonable and would not cause any more “pain” to those affected than we in the general population are feeling would deliver something north of $8.2 billion more for education. While this, by itself, is not sufficient to re-invigorate our educational system it would be a start and it would demonstrate that we really do want to get our priorities right…putting children ahead of prisoners and putting children ahead of inflated, self-gratifying Congressional programs.
OK all you men and women protesting around the country…now you have a cause…let’s all get behind it.