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.
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.
Here’s what we were able to accomplish:
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:
- There’s a report from Public Advocates and allies in California documents how California districts have illegally diverted money intended for English learners, foster youth, and low-income students towards police, security guards, and surveillance equipment.
- The Case for Education Equity in New Mexico from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty follows the personal story of parent turned education advocate Wilhelmina Yazzie. Her story is one of love and perseverance, culture and language, and the reality of how opportunity gaps harm New Mexico and its children.
- Two films by Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and Media Sutra connect policing, Black Lives Matter youth activism, and Title I funding in ‘A Rose in LA’ and ‘Better Days are Coming’ along with reports and resources to accompany each.
- The California Partnership recently released a set of 10 demands for policy change based on a needs assessment from 600 students and families from low-income communities of color in more than 20 school districts. They also released this brief, Every School, Every Community: Funding the Future of Learning.
- Communities for Just Schools Fund created this toolkit with a number of alternative ways to approach school discipline and a new report, Reclaim Social-Emotional Learning.
- Georgia Budget and Policy Institute published Georgia at a Crossroads: Raising Revenues Sensibly or Forcing Schoolchildren to Pay for Years to Come about equitable education funding and solutions for lagging revenues.
- The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released several helpful pieces of guidance, including 12 Tips: Making the Case for a Revenue Solution to State Budget Shortfalls (June 2020) and 3 Principles for an Anti-Racist, Equitable State Response to COVID-19 — and a Stronger Recovery, connecting racial justice and public spending.
- This report from the National Education Policy Center recommends that schools “Redirect funds currently spent on school resource officers to expenditures shown to improve student engagement and social connectivity, including increasing the number of guidance counselors, advanced-level and enrichment courses, socio-emotional learning curricula, and high-quality extracurricular activities.”
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.