The national spotlight on police violence has many reexamining the role of police officers in schools. Before the pandemic, nearly 2 million kids nationwide attended a school in which there was a law-enforcement officer on staff, but not a school counselor, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute.
Executive director at the Institute Marc Schindler said millions of federal, state and local dollars are spent on school resource officers, with little evidence of their value. He hopes the pandemic will give districts a chance to rethink their priorities for when kids return to classrooms.
“With schools being very, very hard-pressed from a budget perspective over the next several years, and when we know schools are understaffed already with mental health counselors, why would we make a decision to have law enforcement in schools when we don’t have enough counselors?” Schindler said.
In 2019, Gov. Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 803, which provided $30 million in grants to districts across the state to fund school resource officers. With state and local school district funding combined, it’s estimated Tennessee spends about $50 million annually on school safety.
He noted the issue of escalating minor school infractions into the criminal justice system has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a potential risk in employing police officers in schools.
Photo: Research shows allowing police officers to handle minor infractions in schools often marks a student’s first contact with the criminal justice system, potentially setting them up for a lifetime of collateral consequences. (Adobe Stock)