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Edelman: U.S. must spend more on education, less on prisons

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If America is to prosper, it must spend less on prisons and more on schools, Marian Wright Edelman said during a keynote speech at the Freedom School Jubilee at the Charlotte Convention Center Friday.

On average, she said, states spend three times more on prisons than they do on education – a “dumb investment,” she said.

“The fact that we have one in three black boys and one in six Latino boys at risk of going to prison in their lifetime is a disgrace,” she said. “It’s a national tragedy. It’s a community tragedy. We’ve got to change and break up the paradigm that focuses on punishment rather than on prevention, and early prevention.”

The 72-year-old Edelman quipped that the billions of dollars spent on incarceration could be better used to produce college-educated workers who could help support Medicare and Social Security.

The alternative, she said, is continued massive jailing, which she said is becoming a new vehicle to “American Apartheid.”

Edelman praised the 2010 health care reform law, which she said would benefit 95 percent of all children in the United States, and she warned against cuts to early education in North Carolina: “That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said.

As Congress looks for ways to shrink the national debt, she said, health care reform and early childhood education must not become marred in the spending debate.

“...Our biggest national deficit is our human national deficit and our values deficit and our priorities deficit, and the fact that our children cannot read at grade level,” she said. “That is what is going to undermine the leadership of this country and the well being of this country in the new century.”

Edelman said that for the first time in U.S. history, the United States will produce a generation that will not do as well financially as their parents. The whole premise of the Civil Rights Movement and the American dream, she said, was that children would have better lives than their parents.

Edelman said the national network of Freedom Schools – the network extends to 26 states, she said – is working to help children reach their potential through education. One of its primary missions is to emphasize summer reading.

She said one of the goals over the next five years is to have a Freedom School on every historically black college campus.

Edelman said she also wants to see the Freedom School network expanded to include more secured detention centers. There are currently Freedom Schools in four detention centers, she said.

Another priority of Freedom Schools, she said, is to promote nonviolent conflict resolution, and Edelman told of a Houston, Texas, detention center that has not seen one fight during its Freedom School program. And one young man who was released two weeks into the program, she said, came back the next day wanting to continue his education.

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October 4, 2015
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