UPDATE: Senate Committee on School Resource Officers
After the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary, as we wrestle with how to ensure the safety of our schools, there has been a wave of legislative proposals to increase law enforcement presence in schools.
On July 18th, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that increases funding for “school resource officers” (SROs). While increasing police presence is intended to increase school safety, the results of current school policing efforts are, at best, mixed.
School-based policing was meant to address only the most serious threats to students’ safety. However, police presence in schools has often led to their involvement in nonviolent, routine matters of discipline like “disrupting public school.” The results can be disastrous – a first-time arrest doubles the odds a student will drop out of school – and have been disproportionately shouldered by students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth.
Thankfully, there are proven, positive approaches to making schools safer, and the Appropriations Committee has also increased funds for some of these. Across the country, there are districts that have partnered with community organizations to better define the roles and responsibilities of SROs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill contains $150 million for a Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, fulfilling the President's budget request to "put up to 1,000 school resource officers and school counselors on the job." The bill itself contains no constraints on how SROs are deployed, and, unfortunately, expands the President’s proposal to allow localities to hire "civilian public safety personnel" (such as unsworn security guards, an even less regulated and trained group). However, the accompanying report:
- includes meaningful language on the appropriate roles for SROs
- directs the Inspector General to investigate any complaints of misuse in funded activities
- directs the Department of Justice to have grantees establish memoranda of understanding between schools and law enforcement in consultation with mental health providers and others, and
- directs the Department of Justice to consult some key stakeholders in developing the model grant program
Next Steps: What You Need to Know
The Senate bill will likely see floor time after Congress' August recess. The big question, then and thereafter, is: Will the Senate and House be able to conference their appropriations bills (currently at wildly different funding levels)?
The related House bill, which was also reported out of committee, contains $75M for a "Comprehensive School Safety Initiative" but differs in other significant ways from the Senate version.
Both the Senate and the House must reconsider this investment. Sadly, the Newtown tragedy is not the first shooting to occur in one of our schools and we must be mindful of the results of our prior endeavors in school policing as we respond to this tragedy.
Take action now: tell the Senate to make smart investments in school safety measures using this zip code-activated alert.
Matthew Cregor coordinates the federal advocacy of the Dignity in Schools Campaign.