New Policy Brief Calls for Prioritization of Education Over Criminalization During Tough Budget Fights

CONTACT: Charmaine Riley, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, [email protected]

Research shows how most states protected funding for the criminal-legal system over education funding.

WASHINGTON — A policy brief released today by The Leadership Conference Education Fund shows that, in previous moments of economic crisis, state policymakers have moved to cut education spending in favor of protecting funding for prisons, police, and courts — a choice with particularly harmful consequences in high-poverty, Black, Native, Latino, and immigrant communities.

“Budgets are moral documents. Faced with the lost revenue of the Great Recession, state policymakers chose to protect mass incarceration over education and investing in our future. As they face tough budget decisions again, they must not repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Steven Almazán, K-12 education program analyst at The Leadership Conference Education Fund. “State policymakers have the power, the opportunity, and the responsibility to make better choices about how and where to prioritize funds. We need the necessary investments in communities to advance equity and justice, and create opportunities for people to realize their full social, economic, and political rights.”

The policy brief, “Lessons from the Great Recession: How Spending on Mass Incarceration Shortchanges America’s Students,” analyzes state budgetary decisions made during times of economic crisis and offers a path forward for policymakers who are leading the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In drawing a contrast to the 30 states that prioritized spending on mass incarceration instead of equitable education during the Great Recession, the brief calls on state policymakers to:

  • Increase and protect education funding,
  • Focus education funding on historically oppressed communities, and
  • Reimagine public safety and transform the criminal-legal system.

The full policy brief, available here, analyzes state budgetary decisions made during the Great Recession and, through that lens, offers a path forward for policymakers seeking solutions for current budget crises while advancing racial justice and creating a more positive future for their communities.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund builds public will for federal policies that promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. The Education Fund’s campaigns empower and mobilize advocates around the country to push for progressive change in the United States. It was founded in 1969 as the education and research arm of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. For more information on The Education Fund, visit