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The Sun editorial: Working hard to pay for college? You’re doing it the wrong way

HAMBURG — Prison just keeps looking better and better.

I apparently went about my education the wrong way. Instead of taking out multiple student loans that will effectively make me Sallie Mae’s property until 2018, and handing over monthly chunks of my income, years after I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I should have just broken a few laws.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ruffled more than a few feathers when he announced his proposal to utilize public funding to pay for free college tuition for prisoners. He has rationalized his plan by saying that educated parolees would be more likely to get good jobs (thus preventing relapses back into criminal behavior) than their uneducated counterparts.

Cuomo proposes to begin this endeavor at 10 state prisons, and go from there. The opportunity to participate in this program, which will cost approximately $5,000 per inmate participant per year, will soon open to interested colleges that would like to participate.

I cannot believe that we are entertaining this kind of idea in a state in which private sector workers are already outnumbered by people dependant on the government (making New York a measurable statistic recently dubbed by Forbes as a “death spiral state”).

Although New York is in an incredible amount of debt, with exorbitant taxes, falling state finances and a dismal economy, it should definitely take yet another large chunk of the money it does not have, and throw it into a black hole.

Because that is what I believe the governor’s newest brilliant plan will end up being. People who end up in jail are not necessarily dumb or uneducated. I know several smart, schooled individuals who went to prison because they were shrewd enough to think of a great plan that ultimately failed, not because they were stupid and tripped over a felony.

While it is possible that a lot of existing prisoners would welcome the chance to pad their resumes, I notice that none of the hardworking New Yorkers out of whose pockets this funding would come have been asked for their opinions about the free college for prisoners gig. Just like they were not asked their opinion about Cuomo’s other brilliant plan, the recent gun law.

The last thing I want to hear, while writing yet another check for my own college tuition, or trying to save for my unborn child’s education, is that the growing amount taken out of my paycheck every two weeks is going to be siphoned off to pay for a free college education for the same person I wrote about in this week’s police blotter.

People who break the law should be punished, not rewarded by a free education. If they have the money to pay for their own tuition, fine. That would at least bring them down to everyone else’s level.

Nobody is offering me the chance to earn another bachelor’s degree – for free. And I have not broken any laws. Why should prisoners be treated better than the rest of us are?

New York State Sen. Mark Grisanti garnered more than 5,000 petitions against the governor’s plan, in three days. His petition, called “Say ‘NO’ To Free College For Prisoners,” can be viewed and signed at www.ipetitions.com/petition/say-no-to-free-college-for-prisoners.

“Keep the signatures coming,” Grisanti said. “I am proud, but not surprised, that many Western New Yorkers agree that we should put the needs of hardworking, law-abiding citizens who are positively contributing to society first.”

The petition is humorously accompanied by a Monopoly®-like “get out of jail free” card, which instead reads, “Get a college degree free.”

“I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism, but not on the taxpayer’s dime, when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education,” Grisanti said.

In direct opposition to Cuomo’s plan, Congressman Chris Collins has announced legislation that will prohibit the use of federal taxpayer dollars to provide a college education to convicted criminals.

“The governor’s latest plan to fund college educations for convicted criminals with New Yorkers’ tax dollars is an insult to law-abiding citizens all across our state,” Collins said. “We hear, over and over again, from politicians concerned about the growing cost of higher education and the amount of student debt our young people are sacked with, after earning their degree. Strangely, many of these same politicians think tax dollars should be spent to give convicted criminals a free college degree.”

Collins added that “Albany has its priorities all screwed up.”

I agree with that sentiment more and more, every day.

Right now, I need to go pay my monthly school bill (which – if I ignored it – would eventually be forgiven, thanks to President Barack Obama). Then, I am going to sign Grisanti’s petition. I invite you to join me.
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2014-03-01 | 02:50:31
convicted felons
If a felon has not re-offended in 10 years chances are he/she is fully rehabilitated. But society still uses that record against them for jobs and house. They have already done their time why can't society consider that enough especially when the crimes are over 20 years old
2014-03-23 | 12:06:35
re: convicted felons
"If a felon has not re-offended in 10 years chances are he/she is fully rehabilitated. " The statement, as well as the rest of yours, is irrelevant to the debate on whether or not it is appropriate to use taxpayer funds for current inmates.
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