Every child deserves access to high-quality and equitable educational opportunities without fear of discrimination or criminalization. In July, Senators Murphy and Warren and Representatives Pressley and Omar introduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act (S. 4360/H.R. 7848), which takes a critical first step toward this equity by re-prioritizing support for students rather than criminalization and over-policing of schools. This legislation would prohibit federal funding from being used for law enforcement personnel in schools and instead would award $2.5 billion in grants toward evidence-based and trauma-informed services to address the needs of marginalized students and improve academic outcomes.
The presence of school resource officers (SROs) and police in schools does not make students safer or encourage learning. Rather, increased police presence has been found to harm school climate and academic outcomes, criminalize typical child-like behavior, lead to disproportionate use of force against and arrest of Black students, and perpetuate the cradle-to-prison pipeline. School police have only become more common and more militarized in recent years, especially in schools with large populations of students of color. Security staff were present in 57 percent of public schools and armed officers were present in 43 percent of public schools during the 2015-16 school year. This over-policing disrupts the well-being of students and it continues to increase even while schools face cuts to their social supports and beneficial resources like counselors, nurses, extra-curricular programs, and enrichment opportunities.
The prevalence of police in schools is an issue of education equity and racial justice. Schools should be safe, supportive places for all of our nation’s children. Yet 14 million students attend a school with at least one police officer but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. It is long past time we remove law enforcement from our schools and make them safer for our children—especially Black students, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.
This summer, we’ve seen the voices of students, families, and teachers finally start to be heard as communities across the country work to respond to the daily horrors of police brutality and generations of systemic racism in and out of schools. Following public outcry, the Minneapolis Public Schools school board voted unanimously to terminate their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department, and over 30 other school districts across the country have followed suit to end their contracts with local police or terminate their school resource officer programs including in Portland, Denver, Charlottesville, Milwaukee, and San Jose.
We’re hopeful as these resolutions and conversations continue at the local level across the country – but students should not have to fight for safe, healthy schools and students’ well-being should not be dependent on what school district they live in. That’s why we are proud to support the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, federal action that will begin to shift resources from violent and discriminatory surveillance of children to actual supports and positive school climates. It’s time Congress takes a stand to divest from programs that criminalize our children and invest in resources that promote their well-being instead.
Find out more about the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act here.