Thursday, January 7, 2010

Higher Ed Over Prisons?

By Ellen Cushing
Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 1:11 PM

In his State of the State address yesterday, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed a constitutional amendment that would shift state funds from prisons to education -- and which could play a vital role in saving the state's cash-strapped higher education system. According to Inside Higher Ed, the amendment -- which requires two-thirds voter approval and will probably go to the ballot in November -- would essentially switch the amount of state funding allotted to prisons and schools, respectively, by the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Prison funding would be capped at 7 percent of the state's expenditures (cuts would come by improving efficiency and allowing privatization,not by releasing prisoners early). By contrast, UC/CSU funding would make up at minimum 10 percent of general fund expenditures, according to the Chron. Schwarzenegger also vowed to save higher ed from the next round of budget cuts.

This could be huge. While the amendment would face some serious obstacles (most notably, the prison guards' union) and it's doubtful that something that won't take full effect for five years can undo the UC and CSUs current crisis, the amendment could represent a big turnaround for the state's public education system and guard against future cuts like the ones we saw this summer.

The amendment would also serve as a symbol in a state where UC and CSU spending has dropped from 13.4 percent of the budget to 5.9 percent in the past 40 years, while at the same time, prison expenditures have rocketed from 3.9 percent to 9.7 percent. As President Mark Yudof of the University of California, said in a statement: "This is a bold and visionary plan that represents a fundamental restoration of the values and priorities that have made California great. I am delighted that Governor Schwarzenegger recognizes the need for our state to invest again in education and innovation."

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