We Need to Address the School to Prison Pipeline

By Gloria Romero and Rishawn Biddle / Orange County Register

The deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the decisions not to prosecute officers in either case, should jolt reformers into demanding transformation of both our failing public education and criminal justice systems – whose dysfunctions disproportionately affect poor, minority communities.

If we do not educate, we will incarcerate. Some school reformers have embraced the moment; too many have not. For example, a respected American Enterprise Institute reform leader, Rick Hess, tweeted that Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., was “not his beat.”

Likewise, criminal justice reform advocates have talked plenty about ending police brutality but have failed to emphatically tackle the school-to-prison pipeline. This prompted Steve Perry, founder of Capital Prep Magnet School, to plead, “What do I need to do to get y’all to picket a school where no kids can read on grade level, and few could read the picket signs?” He followed that with “It’s so easy to parade, I mean march, in a circle outside of Yale, in a city w[ith] some of the worst schools in the state, but then what?”

Perry is right: What happens in our schools ends up in our streets, and vice versa. The U.S. spends $228 billion badly on criminal justice because we spend $595 billion abysmally on our schools. In California, 70 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

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