Rethinking Police in Schools as a Moral and Fiscal Decision

by Mary González and Kathryn Wiley

We are in a power-filled time where political, social, and economic realities have brought us to the precipice of a turning point. The relationship between school funding and racial justice is currently being spotlighted as community organizers work to ensure public institutions are divesting from police.

We are all living amidst systems that were created by white people and are harming Black people and other people of color. That includes police systems, but also the public education funding system that is our focus. So it’s crucial to ask questions that have been at the core all along — about how to center those who have been most harmed — how to respect and support leadership from the Black community, from other communities of color, and from Native Americans and Indigenous communities.

The same inequities that have existed for years, and the same activists who’ve been working for years, even generations to end systemic racism in schools and beyond. The issues arising in the context of the pandemic and current protests is deeply related to ongoing education justice work. School funding systems, overall under-resourcing of public institutions, and racial housing segregation have been a powerful trio. They have been incredibly effective forces for racial oppression.

Using a recently launched interactive tool called Fund Education Instead, we’re able to compare nation-wide spending on police, prisons, detention centers, and more to what schools really need.

To directly compare the cost of police in schools to real investment in education, we first chose the option to claim funds that would otherwise be spent on police in schools around the U.S. The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that there are 14,000–20,000 SROs in the U.S. According to the Justice Policy Institute, the average SRO annual salary is $70,348. That means the U.S. spends at least $985 million each year on police officers stationed in school buildings.

Figure 1. Divesting from police in schools brings in $984,872,000.
Figure 2. We also opted to increase taxes by 1% on the wealthiest 0.1% of people in the U.S.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that a 1% federal tax on the net worth of the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans would raise $1.26 trillion in new revenue over the next ten years. America’s richest 1% own 35% of the nation’s wealth, while the entire bottom 80% own just 11%. Meanwhile, the effective tax rate on the income of the richest 1% is just a few percentage points higher than the average American. As a result, working people have to shoulder more of the burden to fund essential public services and those services are constantly asked to do much more with much much less.

The ACLU has recommended that federal, state, and local dollars “prioritize counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses instead of police.” Dignity in Schools also recently led a week of actions for #CounselorsNotCops. Following the lead of those and other organizations, we applied the $126,984,872,000 in funds from the first step in the game to school psychologists, nurses, closing the digital divide, school counselors, a computer for every student, expanding ethnic studies, free breakfast and lunch for students, smaller class sizes and restorative justice coordinators.

Figure 3. Just a few of the selections we made to fund education instead.

Here’s what we were able to accomplish:

Figure 4. This receipt shows how much education could be funded by divesting in police in schools and increasing taxes by even a very small percentage. We were left with over $7 billion to spend.

School funding is not as simple as taking money from federal budgets and corporate wealth and applying it to education. State and local funding formulas are often complicated with less than 10% of funding coming from the federal level. But knowing where priorities are, it’s clear that we could be doing so much more to invest in public education. The comparison is stark and makes it easier to imagine a better future for all children living in the U.S.

Big moves to shift funding away from police in schools are being made in places like Minneapolis where the school board and teacher union called on the district to cut ties with police, which the Dignity in Schools Campaign and others fought for. Recent changes in other cities point to both hope and also a need to remain vigilant.

Network members in the Partnership for the Future of Learning have been working powerfully for equity and justice in U.S. schools. Here are some strong arguments being made for redirecting funding away from police and towards services students need:

Overt and covert racist funding practices are one of the biggest challenges faced by people who support public education and education equity. To advance equity in education resourcing, it’s crucial to start with the acknowledgement of the racist roots of U.S. school funding systems and the continued, oppressive and White supremacist moves to increase inequity that happen see all the time. Reprioritizing federal spending and taxation of the wealthiest people profiting from our labor and public infrastructure is a smart place to start.

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