Intellegere Foundation

Progress Succeeds Understanding

Educate or Incarcerate: A Position Summary

Educate or Incarcerate: A Position Summary

In 2000, Wisconsin spent $10.656 billion (2018 inflation adjusted dollars) on education at a per capita rate of $1,986.73. Wisconsin was the 10th highest spender on education that year compared to the contiguous United States. As of 2016, Wisconsin is spending $1,811.51 (2018 inflation adjusted dollars) equating to a per capita reduction of $175.22. The difference is also clear in the total funding in 2016, at $10.458 billion (2018 inflation adjusted dollars) Wisconsin schools suffered a real dollar annual budget reduction of $198 million.

Why should we care if our school funding has been reduced?

Comparing the education expenses per state in 2000 against the crime rate in 2016 there is a strong negative correlation (r -.62). This correlation indicates that states with higher per capita education spending in 2000 saw lower crime rates 16 years later than those which spent less on education. Correlation is not causation however and crime statistics are notoriously confounded (FBI-UCR recommendations). Luckily, there has been a significant body of research exploring this relationship.

In July of 2016 the US Department of Education (DoED) released a report which summarized much of the recent research regarding the link between education and incarceration. In this report the DoED makes clear “investments in education can reduce criminal activity by altering student behavior and improving labor market outcomes.”

“Investments in education can reduce criminal activity by altering student behavior and improving labor market outcomes.”

Additionally, a 2004 study published in the American Economic Review looking at three decades of education and incarceration data found a substantial decline in incarceration rates with schooling beyond eighth grade with the single largest effect at high school graduation. When kids don’t graduate high school the employment outlook is bleak and with limited options the rates of criminality increase. In fact a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that 68% of state prison population did not graduate high school.

In another study, published 2016 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, looking at the effect court ordered funding increases the researchers estimate “increasing per pupil spending by 10% in all 12 school-age years increases the probability of high school graduation by 7 percentage points.”

Despite these findings Wisconsin schools are being funded at lower levels than they were nearly two decades ago. Statewide our schools graduate 88.4% of all students but only 77.3% of our low income students according to Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR).

Under Funding Education Does Not Save Money

Crime costs a lot of money. Wisconsin residents incur an estimate $696 million in direct costs as a result of violent crime in 2016(the most recent year of complete FBI data). This is on top of the $515 million as a result of burglary and theft (including motor vehicles). Bringing our total to a little over $1.2 billion or $209.59 per person (not including vandalism, arson, fraud etc). source

Funding Education Takes Vision

Elected officials frequently lack the long-term outlook required to make investments in education. When the next election is always a few years away politicians have a strong incentive to provide short-term benefits for constituents and supporters. It takes a strong character to see the facts and make the decision to invest in education now and to see that vision through to maturity.


This article was originally published July 3, 2018 by Intellegere Project. It is being republished as a part of Intellegere Foundation’s ‘Education Project.’ The goal of  which is to advance public discourse and engagement on issues of education in the state. If you are uniquely involved with education anywhere in Wisconsin we would love to speak with you. Email: cory.rauch@intellegere-foundation.org

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Thank you.


*This article was written prior to our formatting change. Therefore, all references are embedded within the text as hyper-links.

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