Should taxpayers fund college courses for prison inmates?

Three New York Republicans have proposed legislation to prohibit the federal government from funding college courses for prison inmates.

The Kids Before Cons Act, from Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), is a reaction to a plan from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to let inmates take college classes. Cuomo argues that educating prisoners will help keep them from returning to prison, and says lower incarceration rates would more than pay for the cost of the program.

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But Collins disagrees, and says it's unfair for overburdened taxpayers to pay for this program when they're struggling to pay off their own student debt.

"The Governor's latest plan to fund college educations for convicted criminals using taxpayer dollars is an insult to law abiding citizens all across our state," Collins said Tuesday. "With 60 percent of college graduates in New York State carrying student debt, we must put our college kids before cons."

His bill, H.R. 4081, is co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). They said New York students leave school with an average of about $26,000 in debt, and that families should be allowed to focus on this debt rather than pay for an inmate's education.

"New Yorkers are faced with enough taxes and mandates — they do not need to worry about funding college for convicted criminals when they are trying to care for their own families," Reed said.

The bill doesn't stop states from using federal funds to support work training or GED programs in prison, but would prevent federal backing of college-level courses.

In addition to the bill, Collins said he would look to include similar language in appropriations legislation this year.