From Failing To Jailing: Thanks, Corbett!

The governor's budget will funnel kids out of school and into prison

Dear Governor Tom Corbett:

As a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who represents many teens and young adults charged with serious felonies, I thank you for cutting nearly $550 million from school district education and charter school reimbursement—while at the same time increasing funding to the prisons across the Commonwealth. Your cuts will increase my business.

As you know, Pennsylvania leads the country in the number of juveniles serving life without parole and boasts the largest expansion of juvenile and adult inmates in the nation. Either people in this Commonwealth are genetically predisposed to criminality, or there’s something about our society. It’s nature or nurture. Well, since most of us are not criminals (or at least most of us are smart enough not to have gotten caught), we’re not born bad. So it must be that other thing, that nurture thing. And that means being cared for, being raised right, being taught properly—in other words, being educated. But, as you have implicitly stated with your draconian school-budget slashing: “Education? We don’t need no stinkin’ education!” (My apologies to Blazing Saddles.)

[SIGNUP]But we do need it. And we need it bad. Seventy-five percent of prisoners in this country are functionally illiterate; about 20 percent are completely illiterate. (In the general public, there’s a 20 percent functional illiteracy rate and a four percent complete illiteracy rate.) That’s precisely why we need the funding to support education, especially in Pennsylvania and most urgently in Philadelphia, where the state’s largest school district will lose over $300 million and the charter school system will lose more than $224 million in reimbursements. Without sufficient funding, I get more clients and more business. Without sufficient funding, there will be fewer teachers and more students in not enough classrooms. There will be fewer buildings. There will be fewer computers. There will be fewer books. There will be less security. The result: bored, frustrated and distracted students.

So thank you, dear sir, for your $550 million school budgetary decrease. Thanks most particularly for cutting that unnecessary high school reform program by close to $2 million because God knows we don’t need to do anything to improve the embarrassing graduation rates and the lack of college preparedness. Also thanks just as much for cutting that wasteful homeless children and youth education program by almost $400,000 because it’s very clear that those deadbeat poverty-stricken kids don’t deserve or even need any help whatsoever. We can use all of that education reform money and homeless education money for the prisons. Oh, I forgot. We don’t need any more money for that because you already increased the prison budget by 11 percent with a $186 million red-ribboned gift. That’s a smart move because we need a productive place to put the students when they flunk out of school. That’s a great “from failing to jailing” strategy.

Now in all fairness to you, I realize there’s a $4 billion deficit in the state’s $27 billion budget. And I understand that as a man of fairness you promote the concept of shared sacrifice. But what I don’t understand is how your massive and ever-expanding corporate tax breaks advance the cause of shared sacrifice. I’m not gonna beat up on little ole Marcellus Shale because I know that as a $2 billion-per-year oil and gas conglomerate, it is constantly being picked on—maybe even by some of those annoying homeless kids who wanna bleed us for a computer that works. But I gotta admit, Mr. Governor, with all the extra pocket change Marcellus Shale has, it just might be able to chip in up to $400 million each year if it paid the kind of fair taxes that are even less than what’s charged in neighboring West Virginia. Never mind. I just remembered that Marcellus Shale altruistically provided a much-needed service to the citizens of this great Commonwealth when it selflessly contributed close to $900,000 to your campaign, which is something that those crybaby and constantly bitching homeless kids should have done. Maybe then their program wouldn’t have been cut. Those freeloaders!

Well, that’s it, my friend. Let’s not build ’em up as children so we can lock ’em up as adults. It’s all about “from failing to jailing.” That’s what I say. I mean, that’s what you said. After all, it’s a prison cell, not a mind, that’s a terrible thing to waste.