In terms of payroll, states and local governments faced larger escalating costs from the education sector than from corrections in 2008, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The payroll for state governments rose by 5.3 percent ($937 million) in 2008,” stated a recent Census Bureau news release . “Among the functions with the largest increases in payroll were education ($464 million) and corrections ($113 million)” (emphasis added.)
In addition, the number of education workers at the state and local level dwarfs the number of public prison and hospital staff. The Census Bureau reports that there were 8.9 million education workers in 2008, accounting for “…more than half of the 16.7 million state and local government full-time equivalent employees nationwide in 2008…”
In contrast, the other categories had employees numbering in the hundreds of thousands, not millions. “Besides education, some of the other employment categories that contributed the largest numbers to the state and local government employee workforce were hospitals (998,000), police protection (952,000) and corrections (748,000),” states the release. “Other employment categories include streets and highways, public welfare, health, judicial-legal, financial-administration and fire protection.”
The overall expenditures for education staff also dwarf those of corrections at the state and local level, but not at the federal level. All told, payroll for education cost taxpayers about $34.9 billion in 2008. Payroll for corrections at all levels was less than 10% of that, about $3.2 billion.
For an alternative point of view: “Prisons vs. Colleges” via Higher Ed 
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia .