Put education above incarcerationIt’s a handy little ditty to help you remember how your tax dollars are spent by the state of Wisconsin.
By: La Crosse Tribune, Wis., Superior Telegram
It’s a handy little ditty to help you remember how your tax dollars are spent by the state of Wisconsin.
The biggest share of the money that you send to the state goes to incarcerate, educate and medicate.
But what happens when we spend more to incarcerate than we do to educate the students in the University of Wisconsin System?
An analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows that, for the first time, spending in the state’s fiscal 2011-13 budget will be higher for corrections and prisons than it will be for public higher education in Wisconsin — $2.25 billion for corrections, $2.1 billion for higher education.
Sadly, it’s part of a nationwide trend — a trend that can’t be blamed on one political party.
If the dollars spent indicate the priorities we hold, it’s time to examine priorities.
If incarceration is truly the higher priority, our future is bound to spiral in the wrong direction.
It seems far too easy to cut education and far too challenging to look for less-costly alternatives to incarceration.
For the sake of an educated society and an educated workforce, it’s time to challenge the priorities.
University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly told the Journal Sentinel: “We’re kind of coming up against a wall. That trend can’t continue if we’re going to meet, as a people, our obligations to educate ourselves for the workforce.”
That’s an interesting word Reilly used: obligation.
The people of our state should feel an obligation, a commitment and a source of pride when it comes to investing in the world-class system of public higher education that Wisconsin is known for.
It just seems easier to cut spending on higher education — or force a larger share onto students and their families through tuition increases.
Being easier to cut doesn’t mean it’s the right strategy for our future.
We’ve repeatedly asked why Minnesota’s prison population traditionally has been roughly a third of Wisconsin’s.
Aren’t we smarter to find prison alternatives so we can do a better job of funding higher education as a means of creating the types of jobs that will grow our economy?
The Journal Sentinel reports that in 1990, the state spent $178.6 million on corrections and $698.2 million on the UW System.
To think that corrections now exceeds spending on the UW System is hard to believe — especially when you figure that 22,000 inmates are incarcerated while 181,000 students are enrolled and educated.
As Reilly said: “Elected officials are going to have to make a decision on what’s the priority of higher education.”
But don’t expect elected officials to lead the charge. They will, however, respond to businesses and citizens who insist that higher education is a higher, smarter priority than incarceration.
Elected officials will respond when the people of our state demand that incarceration is not the wisest investment in building a vibrant Wisconsin for our future.
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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