Commentary: Alternative Education a Way to Stem School-to-Prison Pipeline
Rev. Jim Holley, The Detroit News, 06/25/2012
The apocalyptic state of public education is shoving our high school dropouts onto a pathway to the penitentiary. The latest proof comes in recent reports about how Highland Park may resort to a charter system to keep its doors open in September.
Not a single article or report that I've seen on the subject has mentioned the fate of programs for high school dropouts. To me, that means we as a society have become so desperate to salvage our public schools from financial collapse that we have calculated our most vulnerable students right out of the equation. This equates to adding them to crime statistics and prison rolls.
It is with outrage and urgency that I plead with lawmakers and educational leaders: Please include alternative education programs to rescue dropouts as you strategize ways to keep our schools open. Your investment will spare these young people from a lifetime of poverty and imprisonment that would ultimately cost America millions of dollars.
My urgent plea comes at a time when things have never been worse, and I speak from 40 years of experience as pastor of historic Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, just north of Highland Park. I also founded the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, a charter school.
Highland Park, Hamtramck, Detroit and countless school districts across the state and nation are struggling to stay afloat in today's perilous financial times.
But with emergency managers taking over, it's all too easy to overlook the immense cost that slashing alternative education programs can wreak on our families, our communities and our society. This week, the emergency manager for Highland Park schools recommended that state officials create a Highland Park Public School Academy System to serve about 800 K-12 students this fall. The charter operator would manage state money allocated per-pupil to educate the students, while the manager would resolve the district's debt crisis.
If this proposal serves as a prototype for other districts, and does not include alternative education for dropouts, our public education system is essentially giving these young people a pass to the penitentiary. People who drop out of school need help. Their communities lack the resources or power to help them.
It is our responsibility as leaders, as lawmakers, as Americans committed to liberty and justice for all, to cast a wide safety net to save our at-risk students.
Almost one in four black male dropouts are incarcerated or institutionalized on any given day, according to a 2009 study by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies.
Many of these dropouts cannot operate in a traditional school. That's why they left. Many are forced to work as their families' sole breadwinners.
In addition, many dropouts come from generations of men and women who are uneducated, ill, drug-addicted, incarcerated and unemployed. This heritage provides no structure, encouragement or examples that graduating from high school leads to a stable job and better life.
The moment a teenager quits school is a point of no return to a life of hope or potential. And it hurts everyone. Especially the economy.
America spends $9,644 a year to educate one student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But it can cost up to $45,000 to care for an inmate for one year. And it costs our country nearly $50 billion every year to run the prison system, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
If we do not answer the call to serve as their only salvation today, we will pay the price tomorrow. And no one will pay a more tragic price than the young teens who were, in the heat of financial crisis, calculated out of society's educational equations.
Originally published here