A simple solution would avert the budget disaster facing
California's schools: We should declare every public school to be a prison.
The kids would understand.
Details need to be worked out, but I want every child
in California to be given a 13-year prison sentence at age 5, with the
possibility of a four-year extension.
That way, the $7,000 the state spends per student each
year could immediately be raised to $27,000 -- what the state spends on
each inmate annually. And our criminally under-funded schools would qualify
for the only category in the governor's proposed budget that's slated to
get more money this year.
Gov. Gray Davis is asking for a 1 percent budget increase
for the California Department of Corrections. Meanwhile, our schools are
flinching at threats of abusive slashes in state support.
Given the alternative of layoffs, more crowded classrooms,
fewer teachers' aides and disappearing supplies, school officials should
jump for joy at the chance for their district's schools to be transformed
into prisons and their students to become inmates.
My daughter's middle school in San Francisco would
be renamed Herbert Hoover Juvenile Correctional Institution. Her brother's
elementary school could be Buena Vista Juvenile Redirective Ranch. The
university from which my sister just graduated would become the California
Honor Farm at Davis.
The benefits are many.
Elementary schools in San Francisco haven't been staffed
with school nurses for many years. Recent court cases, however, have set
minimal levels for acceptable health care for prisoners. If schools suddenly
became prisons, students would be entitled to the same health-care standards.
Prison nurses would step in and school secretaries,
administrators and teachers' aides could get back to educating -- instead
of tending to the endless parade of students needing Band-Aids, ice packs,
lice checks and help with their asthma inhalers.
Labor relations and staff morale would improve. Math,
science and English teachers could sign on as members of the California
Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents prison guards.
The union, which has given $3 million to Davis campaigns since 1998, has
the clout to keep salaries growing and benefits flowing.
The prison guards union's Web site used to brag that
its members earned higher salaries than teachers in California. That boast,
wisely, has disappeared from the site. Nonetheless, if our schools became
prisons and our teachers were covered by the same union contracts as prison
guards, educators would get the immediate raises they deserve.
Prison guards deserve every penny they get. It's a
tough and stressful line of work, often unappreciated by the inmates and
their families. Sound like a teacher's job?
From Lakeshore Elementary Jail to Lowell State Penitentiary,
wardens and their little inmates should move quickly to get formal status
under the California Department of Corrections. Otherwise, county hospitals
and nursing homes might beat them to it.
Margo Freistadt is a copy editor at The Chronicle.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback
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