Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Throughout history, the public school system has done a disservice to financially challenged students. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a systematic trend where children who attend public schools in low-income areas often face academic discrimination, low funding, and a direct path into the criminal justice system.
They have become more than just an overrepresentation of children attending prison—they are now the prison population. This national epidemic has torn families apart and needs immediate action from policymakers and citizens alike.
What's worse, studies have shown that in neighborhoods with higher crime rates, resources to help boost schools’ test scores are scarce, ultimately leading to financial penalties for the schools and, therefore, their students.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, a study showed that nearly 40% of Black and 30% of Hispanic students received no online academic instruction. In contrast, only 10% of White students, however, received no online education during the pandemic.
With the rise in the cost of living in Hillsborough County, teachers are working more than one job to make ends meet, unfortunately, leading to more health challenges and leaving schools with massive vacancies and low performance.
Academic lapses like these further distance students needing additional support before the shutdown.
What is the problem with the school-to-prison pipeline?
Let's talk about the consequences.
The feeling of belonging is absent for most of the low-income students. They lack a sense of community in school and everywhere else. Even if they make it through high school, low-income students are unlikely to get into college.
Even though schools with a high proportion of poor children don’t receive additional funding, those who get accepted into a four-year university often don’t have adequate financial aid.
This means that college might not be an option for these students—even though higher education has been proven to lead to better life outcomes.
It also makes them more likely to drop out: Every year, 2 million people across the country leave college without earning a degree or certificate (we call them dropouts).
The vast majority of these people were first-generation and low-income students. Consequences from not completing school may be obtaining low wage employment, inability to advocate for personal care, or homelessness.
Academic discrimination in the American education system
Education isn’t free, yet states tend to give low-income communities less funding for schools. While wealthier communities receive more from their state governments, poorer communities aren’t as lucky.
Unfortunately, even though they have limited resources, many low-income schools are still stigmatized by academic discrimination. Students are frequently funneled into classes like remedial English or algebra, based on their scores without considering other factors. This can make it difficult for students who may be behind because of circumstances outside of school but excel once given support and help.
Meanwhile, other students who may be behind simply because of bad attendance or behavior end up falling through a gap between general courses and remedial ones, entering high school with no clear sense of what coursework will serve them best. This can create a feeling that failure is inevitable in low-income communities and makes it difficult to ask for help when kids need it most.
And then there's the school-to-prison pipeline for children with learning disabilities
The lack of support for students with learning disabilities, IEP’s, 504 plans, or family trauma attending low-income schools, forces students to make choices that will likely lead to negative consequences like prison.
Want to know more? Read Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities, researched and written by DREDF for the National Council on Disability.
Here are a few key findings pulled from the study, school to prison pipeline facts:
Solutions to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline
We know schools in low income areas routinely produce lower academic testing scores, receive less funding, and have a greater rate of dropouts therefore leading children directly into the criminal justice system, impoverished living, or homelessness. To create a lasting solution and equity within low income communities, we must roll up our sleeves as a community and get to work. Systemic-born inequality won’t rid itself.
Want to help create equal opportunity for low income students? Try this:
Donate supplies to low income schools.
This helps remove the financial burden from low income families, allowing the student to focus more on their own academic achievements.
Most needed Supplies are:
Pencils, pens, glue, copy paper, three ring binders, loose leaf paper, folders, tablets, laptops, dry erase markers, calculators, pocket dictionaries, and music instruments.
By volunteering in person or virtually for a low income school you can help ease the physical and financial burden of teachers and administrative staff.
You can volunteer as:
Office support, copying, or filing papers, Tutor, help struggling students improve their academic scores. PTA: Parent, teacher association, helping raise funds and awareness for school programming.
Help speak up for students in need. Advocate for a safe place within your community for them to participate in extracurricular activities, seek family resources, and cost efficient, better yet free and informed health care.
In America, it was said “All Men are Created Equal”, although we know now that statement d