When a parent sends their child to school, the expectation is that they are being sent to a safe and nurturing environment where they can learn and grow into their full potential. They don’t expect their child to be arrested while in class and put on a path to incarceration and criminalization.
Unfortunately, this is happening in too many schools across the country. Students, as young as third-grade, are being arrested on campus for harmless acts, such as talking back to teachers or writing on a bathroom wall, that instead deserve no more than a light reprimand.
In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put the national spotlight on this growing problem we are all too familiar with here in California: the prioritization of punishment over prevention, even in our schools.
Our schools are suspending roughly three and a half million students a year, and referring a quarter of a million students to police each year. A significant percentage are young boys of color or students with disabilities.
The message we are sending these students is that they and their potential are not valued.
Something we believe in at The Endowment is that “what we invest in, grows.”
And public investments haven’t prioritized prevention or a quality education.
In fact, as Secretary Duncan notes, state and local correctional spending in this country has increased almost twice as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education.
If we want strong, thriving communities, our spending priorities need to change. We need to redirect funding back into schools and into services and programs that help students reach their full potential.
It’s a sentiment Secretary Duncan shares. He urged states and local school districts to find paths other than incarceration for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, something that could save upwards of $15 billion each year.
Imagine what we could invest all that money in.
Or better yet, imagine if we asked our youth to prioritize the services and programs they’d like to see on their campuses with this money. Our work with youth, through the Building Healthy Communities initiative, tells us they’d come up with multiple solutions that can keep students in schools, actively learning and pursuing their full potential, rather than end up in prison.
As we have seen in California, students tell us they’d invest it in more counselors, positive school discipline programs, sports programs, libraries and healthier lunches.
While we can’t leave it to schools alone to fix all our problems, here in California education leaders–guided by our youth and grantees–have been able to make tremendous progress in breaking down the school-to-prison pipeline.
Together with parents and community leaders, our youth leaders are transforming the way school districts are addressing student discipline. They were instrumental in pushing some of our largest school districts–including Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified–to prioritize prevention instead of punishment.
We now have more money going to restorative justice practices and student programming and we are pushing less students out of our schools. Through the new policies school districts are adopting, there has been a decline of 15% in school suspensions and 20% in expulsions across the state. That means 120,000 more students are in school actively learning.
As Secretary Duncan leads the call to action for education and policy leaders across the nation to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, we invite more leaders to connect with the amazing work happening in California to restore our schools as healthy places where students can learn and reach their full potential.
Please read this Huffington Post article, “Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline Through Restorative Justice,” for more information about how we can end the school to prison pipeline.