POLITICS
09/30/2015 06:00 am ET

Education Secretary: Want To Save On Prisons? Spend More On Schools.

Arne Duncan calls on state and local leaders to make a change.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will add to the renewed focus on criminal justice reform with a speech Wednesday afternoon calling on state and local government leaders to invest in schools instead of jails. 

Duncan, in a speech at the National Press Club, will encourage officials to divert money away from prisons and into the hands of teachers in the nation's most impoverished schools.

If half the people convicted of nonviolent crimes were taken out of prisons and placed in alternative environments, states and localities could save at least $15 billion, Duncan will say. The savings could give meaningful salary increases to teachers working in disadvantaged communities, or fund teacher leadership programs that allow senior educators to mentor peers, according to Duncan.

"That sort of investment wouldn’t just make teachers and struggling communities feel more valued. It would have ripple effects on our economy and our civic life," Duncan will say, according to an advance copy of his remarks. "This is not about being soft on dangerous criminals -- this is about finding ways, consistent with wise criminal justice policies, to reapportion our resources so we prevent crime in the first place."

Indeed, in recent years, funding growth for prisons has far outpaced the increased spending on education

Because a majority of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, Duncan's idea is to invest in keeping at-risk children in school, providing them with meaningful opportunities that keep them away from trouble. Schools, meanwhile, should recognize factors that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, a term used to describe how students are pushed out of schools through harsh discipline and into the streets.

A first step to ending this pipeline may mean that teachers and school administrators have to recognize implicit biases that contribute to disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for students of color. In the 2011-12 school year, black students were suspended or expelled three times more often than their white counterparts

"A child holds a clock. And we see a bomb," Duncan will say. 

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