Education versus incarceration: CSU budget runs dry while corrections funding soars

If she had been able to get just one more class this semester, SF State student Ivonne Quiroz would be graduating. There were a variety of classes she could have taken, but few of them have been offered and those that were being offered only had one section available.

Instead, next semester she has to take 12 units to maintain her financial aid status and take out an additional $5,000 in loans which will put her at a total of $20,000 in debt by graduation.

Class cuts as a result of less funding for higher education are contributing to students taking longer to get the classes they need to graduate.

Despite having nearly four times as many adults enrolled in the California State University system than are incarcerated in the California Corrections system, the CSU’s receive a quarter of the funding than California prisons.

“The future of higher education in California is at risk right now,” said SF State President Robert A. Corrigan as he addressed a group of students who marched to the Administration building in protest of tuition increases. “Not because the fees are going up, but because there is not enough money to support higher education.”

According to Daniel Macallair, executive director for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice who also teaches a California Corrections System course at SF State, the corrections system and higher education have been competing for funds from the state since the prison system began an unprecedented expansion in 1984.

“The state has a finite amount of money it brings in every year,” Macallair said. “So you start out with a limited pie. What has happened is that the corrections budget has simply sliced of a larger chunk of the pie. And if you slice off a larger chunk of the pie, there is less pie.”

Studies that the center have done show a dollar for dollar trade-off in some years; where prison spending has increased, the spending on higher education has been cut an equal amount. One study they did in 1994 showed an increase in prison spending by $200 million and a mirrored cut to the CSU system.

This disparity has become more and more visible since the budget cuts began. While CSUs and UCs have been receiving drastic cut backs, the prison system has seen increases at times, according to President Corrigan.

“We took a $650 million cut in the CSU and UC took a $650 million cut, and guess what?” Corrigan said. “The prison system got an increase of $362 million.”

According to Macallair, because of policies like the three strikes law that emphasize punishment instead of rehabilitation and education, California has been put in a position where it favors funding to lock up prisoners instead of sending them to rehabilitative programs that would result in a more productive, educated and tax-paying population.

Macallair has been teaching at SF State since 1996 and has seen the Criminal Justice Department grow from a few classes into a major.

“We’ve got 700 majors and we’ve got 5 faculty,” Macallair said. “And during that whole time, in recent years we’ve seen nothing but cut backs. The lectures have been decimated.”

This semester there are three classes Macallair teaches that have a maximum capacity of 40 to 45 students. He has 80 students in each section, including a Saturday morning class that begins at 9 a.m.

“You’re dealing with a budget for this campus now from the legislature, which is the same as it was in 1998,” Corrigan said. “We are trying to educate thousands of more students. For the first time in our history a couple semesters ago we turned down new admissions in the spring, and if we don’t get the money we will have to turn down more.”

In that same time, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s website, their budget has grown to a little more than $10 billion. While the corrections budget has doubled in recent years, so has average tuition for CSUs, from $2,772 in 2007 to $4,429 for this past year.

According to the legislative analyst’s office for the state, the budget for the CSUs for next school year will be $2.7 billion. 

And in terms of facing more cuts, the CSUs are still not out of the woods.

“I’m asking you. Indeed, I am begging you to bring the message to the legislators,” Corrigan said as he addressed the crowd of SF State Students. “And to bring the message to the legislators, who, like the Republicans in Washington, are standing between us and what we should have as citizen of this state and of this nation. What we need to have is a well-educated population.”

For Quiroz, the upside to having to be $5,000 more in debt for essentially one class is that at least she will have a minor upon graduation.

“I’ve always thought of adding the minor but I never thought I would have time. So looking at the silver lining or the glass half full, it’s what helped me make the jump to declare the minor but I wouldn’t have missed out on anything if I had graduated this semester.”

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