Are prisoners worth more than students?

Keeping a prisoner in Santa Rita corrections facility is worth more to society than keeping a student in Fremont High.

That’s right. California spends $46,000 per prisoner incarcerated in state prisons per year, but only $7,000 per student per year in high school.

“It makes me feel that if I were a criminal, I would be treated better,” said senior Malik Adesokan when I told him about this statistic.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is set to receive $9 billion this fiscal year for all prisoners.

That kind of money could pay for a lot of things Fremont students have been asking for. It could pay for “music, art or anything else fun” that junior Ginelle Bernandino would like. It could pay for “new equipment for the P.E. department” that senior Vanessa Rivas would like. It could pay for a new football field and new portables that I would like. [The Fremont High football field is just 90 yards long, and some of the school’s portables are more than 40 years old and rotting.]

The good news is that the gap may be closing a bit, at least for schools in low-income areas like ours.

I was part of a campaign by Youth Together and other education reform groups last spring to secure a new way to fund schools. School districts with more than 55 percent low-income students and English language learners were to receive 20 percent more funding than districts with more privileged students. Low-income students include anyone who is eligible for free and or reduced lunch. At Fremont, that is just about everyone.

The plan, known as Local Control Funding Formula, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1. Oakland Unified is supposed to get $12 million because of the new formula this January.

According to the Oakland Unified school board’s president, Jody London, “the board has decided to use these funds primarily to balance our structural deficit, give a 2 percent raise to all our employees, invest in training and materials for teachers to implement the Common Core Standards, and provide resources and training to help our African American male students be more successful in school.”

It is a good start for the district. We are in debt and our teachers do deserve more money. But when will the money be spent on what the students want?

Maybe we need another formula. Schools should get at least half of what the state pays for prisoners since we spend half our days at school. Imagine if society were to think your  education was worth $23,000 a year instead of just $7,000 a year.