Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Prisons Overtake Education as Top Priority in California

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Prisons Overtake Education as Top Priority in California

Article excerpt

California, land of the possible. So it used to be: the state where optimism was policy and the policy worked. Not today.

Two Republican governors 50 years apart define the change. Earl Warren was an optimist whose political method was to appeal to the best in human nature. He himself had risen from poverty by way of the University of California - which had nominal tuition then for state students - and he worked to make that kind of opportunity available to all Californians. He was a tough prosecutor before he was governor, but he also sought to reduce crime by easing social inequalities.

Pete Wilson first made his political mark as a progressive mayor of San Diego. As governor, he has increasingly turned to the politics of division, appealing to the anger of voters on such issues as immigration and affirmative action. His three-strikes law is making California the world capital of incarceration.

Education was a key aspect of California's spectacular growth in the decades after World War II. Warren built large numbers of schools, enough to keep up with the rapid rise in the state's population. The rich sent their children to public schools.

Today California is near the bottom of state school rankings by average number of pupils per teacher. In spending per student, by 1992 it had fallen to 36th among the states. Private schools are booming.

Higher education was also a priority of Warren and his successor, Democrat Pat Brown. The many campuses of the University of California and California State made up the best public system in the country. And it was all virtually free.

In the last five years, fees have quadrupled in the state system, so it is no longer the same ladder of upward mobility. Despite the higher costs to students, the university is pinched for funds because state support has been severely limited.

The growth industry in California is prisons. As recently as 15 years ago the state spent six times as much on higher education as on prisons. Last year the prison budget was larger - and the disparity is going to grow.

It now takes about 10 percent of the state budget to operate the prisons. …

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