[crossposted on my DailyKos diary page]

Despite having moved out of California over a decade ago, I still have strong ties to the SF Bay Area and one of my main sources of online news is the SFGate website.  Today I spotted an article which seems to have generated a lot of controversy and really got me thinking.

The article, Troubled students produce rap CD, begins thus:

San Francisco school officials spent $50,000 over the past several months to produce a hip-hop CD, one with so much profanity it requires a parental advisory label slapped on the front.

And they couldn’t be more proud.

It goes on to describe how this group of students, with help from teachers, artists, and no-questions-asked funding from the school district, wrote, performed, produced and mastered a rap CD.  The total cost: around $50,000.

The project appears to have had some degree of success.  Some of the students described in the article are making a real effort to turn their lives around, hoping not just to graduate from high school but go on to college.  Yet most of the reaction by readers is … outrage?

The “most recommended” comment reads in part,

It is absolute insanity to waste this kind of money – taxpayer money. And the district is planning to do more projects like this?

And the poll question attached to the article is running three to one in favor of the answer, “It’s a waste of money.”

Does no one in this country think in the long term any more?

It didn’t take me long to discover (on this page) that the cost to incarcerate a person in the state of California was $25K a year (in 2001).  So if even one of these kids, as a result of taking part in this create a CD project, stays out of prison for just two years (and probably less, now) the CD project will have paid for itself.  Where is the waste then?

I get the sense that one of the reasons behind driving this country toward universal health care is the idea that the cost of preventing illnesses is a lot lower than the cost of letting uninsured folks just go to the emergency room.  And people finally seem to be getting behind that idea.

So where’s the difference between spending some money up front to help kids in trouble from going down the road to prison, and spending some money up front to help people without insurance from going to the emergency room?

A Rap CD vs. 2 years of Prison — what’s the better investment?
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