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Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Sep 27, 2017, 10:51 AM

This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA