This November 6th, California voters will have the opportunity to make some important choices. One vital decision regards the future of education in the Golden State and another related issue concerns the high cost of the prison-industrial complex. According to the recent report “Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California” by California Common Cause: “After adjusting for inflation, higher education in 2011 received 13% less State funding than it did in 1980. Corrections, on the other hand, expanded its share of the State’s General Fund by 436%.” These statistics mean that not only are we spending more money incarcerating our citizens than educating them in public higher education, but the general defunding of all levels of education has pushed more people into the criminal justice system.
This movement of state funds from schools to prisons is the direct result of two previous decisions by Californian voters; the first concerns Prop 13 and the loss of needed tax revenue for schools, and the other is the Three Strikes law that has rapidly increased the number of prisoners in this state. Luckily, there are three important ballot propositions that can start to reverse both of these trends.
Prop 30 will help to close the state budget deficit as it sends up to $9 billion a year to K-12 and higher education. Meanwhile, Prop 36 revises the Three Strike law and Prop 34 repeals the death penalty. In the case of Prop 36, the new law would stop the costly and odious practice of counting minor offenses as the third strike against offending individuals and thus would reduce the number of people receiving life sentences in California. Since it now costs more money to imprison people than to send them to college, by reducing the number of life sentences, we can free up money for higher education. Likewise, through the repeal of the death penalty, California can reduce the high cost of maintaining prisoners on death row.
It is important to stress that as our prisons have become full of people of color arrested for minor offenses and drug charges, the schools and colleges serving brown and black students have been underfunded and understaffed. These trends can only be turned around if Californian voters reverse their previous bad decisions.