Education vs. incarceration

California Gov. Gray Davis is going to have some tough decisions to make in the coming months, particularly when it comes to cutting state funds to public agencies to make up for a huge budgetary shortfall that somehow snuck up on the wise old politico last year.

The governor says he’s up to the job (where have we heard that before?) and he’s ready to start making painful budget cuts to bring financial stability back to the Golden State.

And, perhaps, raising taxes.

And, maybe, increasing some state fees…

Budget cuts are, of course, quite understandable in these troubled economic times. How and why they’re made, however, can pose a bit of a sticky wicket, even for a financial wizard like Gray “I Am Not A Weasel” Davis.

Unfortunately, he appears to have already tied both shoes together and stepped off the escalator.

According to a recent Associated Press report from Sacramento, Davis is proposing average cuts of 9 percent to almost every state agency – schools, transportation and health care – with the exception of the state Department of Corrections.

I’d like to believe that this was just one of those bureaucratic oversights that sometimes occur when the governor gets sandwiched between a hair styling appointment and cheeseburgers with the California beef lobby, but I’m afraid this may be more than a simple oversight.

After all, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has traditionally been one of the governor’s staunchest supporters – particularly when it comes to fat political contributions.

Not that I’d accuse the governor of funding favoritism or budgetary bias – I’ll leave that to you…

Whatever the reason for leaving the Department of Corrections virtually unscathed in his funding proposal, it still doesn’t make sense to protect prisons while hacking away at the state’s already overburdened and underfunded educational system.

If it’s one thing that can keep people out of prison, it’s a good education. When the educational system falters, whether at the elementary school or the community college level, there’s a whole new generation of potential felons growing up.

If you don’t get out of school with a marketable job skill, if you have no career options and if you don’t have the ability to fill out an employment application, your horizons are severely limited. Unless, of course, you develop a lucrative sideline selling methamphetamines, stealing cars or holding up convenience stores.

(And, yes, show me any guy stupid enough to rob convenience stores, and I’ll show you a guy with an inadequate education…)

Good schooling equates to strong self-esteem, the opportunity to find a decent job and the ability to function in society without having to resort to drugs or firearms.

If the state of California provides a good, well-rounded education, it may not need to devote so much of its budget to prisons.

Cuts will undoubtedly have to be made in state programs, but they should be made equitably. The state Department of Corrections should not be treated as a sacred cow while California’s schools face the budget ax.

Even Gray Davis should be able to figure that out…

Originally published January 26, 2003

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