Pennsylvania and New Jersey each are spending less on higher education than they are on prisons, according to a study published by the U.S. Department of Education.
This is emblematic of a trend in most states across the country, federal researchers say, and not just when comparing the money appropriated for prisons to money budgeted for public state colleges.
Statistics show that during the last 30 years, state and local government expenditures for corrections has skyrocketed three times as fast as money spent on elementary and secondary education.
This increase in corrections spending has been driven by — among other factors — an increase in the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population.
A person with less education is more likely to end up in prison. Researchers note that two-thirds of state prison inmates in the U.S. did not graduate from high school, and they estimate that a 10-percent increase in high school graduation rates could lead to a 9 percent decline in the country's arrest rate.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania allot more money for primary education than prisons and jails but the increase in spending for corrections in these states outpaces the growth rate for schools.
In Pennsylvania, primary education spending grew by 74 percent from 1979-1980 through 2012-2013 while prison spending grew 320 percent. During the same time period, New Jersey's education spending increased 134 percent and its corrections expenses rose 282 percent.
Nationwide, funding for primary education has risen 107 percent while funding for state and local prisons has more than tripled, growing 324 percent.
All totaled, 24 states had per capita spending rates more than 100 percentage points higher than the per-student rate of primary education spending. Pennsylvania was among those states.
Read the U.S. Department of Education's complete study here.