Houston ISD's Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center. credit: Ayesha Muzaffar

Summer to Prison Pipeline: How Houston ISD Funds Policing, Not Summer Programs

Summer brings different experiences for all Houstonians. For most, it means heat. For working parents, it means finding affordable summer programs that are engaging, educational, and enriching. Considering many working class Houstonians are parents, summer school programs that are accessible and academic are a real necessity, especially since nearly 80% of students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

HISD has projected that its total expenditures for the 2024-2025 school year will be $2,100,480,793. Funding for schools is crucial, but how much money HISD allocates to each budget item raises questions. Going through the budget, it is unmarked how much HISD spends on their summer programs. We reached out to the district multiple times to get more information on summer programs and the budget for said programs, and our questions went unanswered by HISD. This raises the concern that HISD does not focus their energies on students throughout the whole year. Instead, their budget priorities seem more concerned with issues like policing, which did have a clear budget: $26,165,334 for the HISD Chief of Police. In comparison, only $7,054,647 were allocated towards “Community services”, and $8,393,508 for “Social work services.” HISD serves a large community, and it is clear they believe that community is best served through the HISD Police Department than through community services and certified summer programs.

This new budgeting plan was created by HISD’s board of managers, which is composed of nine people, none of whom were democratically elected. Eight are parents to HISD students, whereas only two of the nine are educators. HISD is composed of nearly 200 thousand students, and of those students 10% are white, 21% are Black and 62% are Hispanic. This board, made up of mainly HISD parents, is not wrong to want the safety of students. However, enforcing police presence around these children does not make them safer: it has created and perpetuated the school to prison pipeline. 

Fewer Teachers, More Policing

Unlike Houston ISD, families’ concern for these children’s wellbeing does not end when the school year does. This year, HISD has laid off a large number of teachers due to stricter budgeting concerns. Increasing class sizes has created a new workload on returning teachers that is overcrowding and overwhelming classrooms. Rather than fostering the knowledge and excellence of these HISD students, HISD has shown their investment is not in their student population, but rather in the forces that police them. 

Since 2022, HISD classrooms have seen a decrease in certified teachers and an increase in police presence, rifles, and shields. HISD claims the new security measures are appropriate because “[a] child can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” but in reality it is increasing this police presence around predominantly working class, Black, and Brown students. 

HISD is able to afford the security, but has yet to provide classrooms with an adequate number of teachers, certifications for those teachers, and students with summer programs that keep them safe and educated. Studies have shown that if students do not spend the summer engaged and learning, they are more likely to not retain the material they learned in previous years. Students below the poverty line with no access to tutoring and expensive educational programs are at a higher risk of falling behind. 

This is especially true when students in HISD schools, a predominantly working class district, don’t have the summer programs in place to combat these gaps. A 2022 summer school report by HISD shows that 25,051 students were enrolled in HISD summer programs while nearly 200 thousand students were enrolled in all of HISD. With students unengaged in the summer, HPD is able to pick up kids who “loiter” in areas where HPD would rather they did not.

County Stats Reflect Summer Program Divestment

This new HISD board’s plan has robbed students of the education, attention, and care they deserve by perpetuating the school to prison pipeline in dangerous ways. One 2022 study by the Texas Policy Lab found that among 42,000 minors previously referred to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, over a third of youth offenders were referred by schools for their first contact. In 2023, ABC 13 Investigates found that of the 6,047 minors in the Harris County Juvenile Justice System, more than 3,000 of those minors had committed misdemeanors or nonviolent offenses. 

It is clear that the answer here is educational rehabilitation, reallocation of funds, and less policing of students. Another study found that summer programs help decrease risky behavior, increase adult supervision, and even found a decrease in violent crimes. This structure, combined with the added attention these HISD students deserve, results in positive outcomes for the students, their families, and even the district – unlike policing, which intimidates, burns funds, and destroys the futures of children.

HISD, by not diverting specific funds to summer programs, is expanding the summer to prison pipeline by ensuring Black and Brown children have nowhere to go during the summer months while their parents work. To make matters worse, Houstonians have few options when it comes to making sure their children are not falling behind in the summer months. 

Children of working class parents do not have the same summer program options as parents who have higher paying jobs, generational wealth, and access to a more privileged job market in Houston. Tutoring, summer camps, and day care programs are typically expensive, leaving parents between a rock and a hard place: shell out the money, or try to juggle working while making sure their student retains all the knowledge they gained from the previous year. HISD funding the policing of students is proof that they would rather invest in the future of incarceration under a false sense of security, than in the enrichment of the students of their district.

Section: Schooling
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