March 18, 2011
In an effort to balance its budget, Texas Lawmakers revealed plans to drastically cut funding to the Windham School District, a move that could save as much as $128 million over the next two years. What makes this district unique from others nationwide facing similar cuts: Windham is comprised entirely of convicts.
According to The Statesman, the 41-year-old school district, unknown to most Texans, is the largest in the state, serving 77,000 students while maintaining 1,300 employees across 90 prisons. The statewide Texas Education Agency, by contrast, has just 900 employees.
In a closed-door meeting, some argued that Windham provides a valuable rehabilitative service while others felt it was an unnecessary expense. Some lawmakers noted the proposed cuts could offset some of the $2 billion in planned cuts to Texas public schools.
"This is the biggest waste of money I think I've seen," said Senate Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro. "When we're cutting funding for public schools and furloughing thousands of school employees, they're going to have to convince us why they should receive any continued funding." Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire agreed, "I'm not even sure this district needs to continue to exist as it is now," as reported by The Statesman.
In a related article by The Houston Chronicle, Shapiro also questioned the effectiveness of the District following a recent study by the Legislative Budget Board that suggested inmates who received training through Windham were not any more likely to secure jobs than those who had not.
According to San Antonio Express-News, many lawmakers also felt that too few inmates, about 5,200 per year, received high school equivalency certificates. "I want to ask what they are doing with the money," said Shapiro.
In what The Houston Chronicle noted was a difficult testimony defending the District, Windham Superintendent Debbie Roberts countered that the job statistics had been better the previous year, but "started going down with the economy."
Roberts said that while she understood lawmakers' budgeting dilemma, some of their suggestions, like simply offering more courses online, would not work in a prison setting where security concerns would make such an arrangement difficult. Roberts also took issue with those comparing Windham to other, more traditional school districts, insisting that no other Texas district serves students as unique and difficult to educate as Windham.
According to The Houston Chronicle, the average Windham student is 33 years old with an IQ of 86, and 36 percent of them score a grade equivalency below the sixth grade. Windham helped offset the gap, boosting students by an average of 1.2 academic years annually.
Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff
"Lawmakers look at cutting $128 million prison school system," statesman.com, March, 17, 2011, Mike Ward
"Lawmakers take aim at prison education programs," chron.com, March, 17, 2011, Austin Bureau
"New budget-cut target: Prison school system," statesman.com, March, 17, 2011, Mike Ward
"Prison schools get scrutiny," mysanantonio.com, March, 17, 2011, Patricia Kilday Hart