Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and other Democratic lawmakers are reintroducing legislation to fund school social workers, nurses and psychologists while barring states and cities from using that federal money to pay for school resource officers.
The “Counseling Not Criminalization In Schools Act” is an attempt to address students’ needs by targeting more money to support staff rather than police, which can lead to higher student arrests, Murphy said.
“Nationally there are 10 million kids in schools with police but no social workers,” Murphy said, citing a 2019 American Civil Liberties Union report, “Cops and No Counselors, How the Lack of Mental Health Staff is Harming Students.”
The legislation would provide $5 billion in grants for school nurses, social workers, psychologists and other support staff, Murphy said. The federal government has spent $1 billion providing grants to school districts for school resource officers since 1999, he said.
Under the legislation, school districts would still be allowed to fund police in schools through state and local dollars, he said.
“It isn’t a ban on having police in schools,’ Murphy said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate for the federal government to do that.”
Black girls in Connecticut are six times more likely to be arrested in school than white girls, the ACLU report found. Latino students are also six times more likely to be arrested in schools that have police than their counterparts in schools without police, according to a Connecticut Voices For Children report.
“There are some things that happen in schools that have to be addressed with an arrest,” Murphy said. “But kids who are acting out are getting arrested. Kindergarteners are getting arrested.”
The ACLU report concluded that 16 million American students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker. It additionally found that 6 million students are in schools with police but no school psychologists; 3 million have police but no nurses in school and 1.7 million have police but no counselors.
Connecticut fared slightly better than national averages, according to the ACLU data, with a ratio of 580 students to one social worker. No state met the recommended ratio of 250 students to one social worker.
Connecticut exceeded the recommended staffing for school nurses and school psychologists in the ACLU report with one school nurse to 435 students and one school psychologist to 548 students. The national benchmark is 750 students to one school nurse and 700 students to one school psychologist.
The legislation was introduced last year before the November election but was never taken up for a vote. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., are co-sponsoring it with Murphy in the Senate and U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., are sponsoring the legislation in the House.
Murphy declined to speculate on a timeframe for passage or when school districts would be able to seek grant funding. But he said he hoped the legislation would provoke honest discussion and debate about the role of police and mental health support staff in schools.
Murphy acknowledged that Connecticut schools have worked to reform practices and reduce arrests. But he said that Black students in schools with police still have an arrest rate six times higher than schools without police.
“My intent is to make our schools safer places,” Murphy said. “Schools still need resources to surround students with more appropriate supports.”