What if schools were adequately funded and prisons had to hold a bake sale...

You’ve probably heard the old line about the Air Force having to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber, right?

Well Ithaca Public Schools Superintendent Nathan Bootz has added a new twist to that old thinking exercise.

In an op-ed published in Central Michigan’s Morning Sun, Bootz asks why the state of Michigan can afford to spend so much on its prisoners when it spends so little on its students.

“We treat our prisoners better than we treat our school children,” Bootz wrote. “The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding.”

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Bootz’ letter has gone viral — and the there has been some equally predictable pushback to his apples-to-oranges comparison; Michigan doesn’t have to feed, clothe, house and provide health care for its students, after all.

There also appears to be some question about Bootz’ numbers. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Michigan spends more than $10,000 per pupil, per year — almost exactly the U.S. average for per pupil funding. (New York spends the most, at more than $18,000 per student; Utah spends the least, at less than $7,000, according to the bureau.)

Nonetheless, we should all be thinking about these sorts of things. — or, as The National Priorities Project puts it, if people know “how and where their tax dollars are being spent,” then they can better know “how and when they can influence budget creation." Doing that requires us to all strive for a better understanding of the costs and benefits of all of the services our government provides.

And that’s what makes Bootz’ comparison of school and prison costs apples-to-apples applicable. After all, he writes, only through adequate funding can we give “our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.”

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