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November 2, 2023

Pressley, Murphy Unveil Bill to End Criminalization of Students, Invest in Counselors and Safer Environment for Kids

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill Summary (PDF)

WASHINGTON — Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Chris Murphy, along with Representatives Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), reintroduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, legislation that would invest in safe and nurturing school climates that support all students and end over-policing in our nation’s public K-12 schools.

Research shows that the presence of mental and behavioral health personnel in schools, like counselors, social workers, and psychologists, improves educational outcomes for kids, specifically by improving attendance and graduation rates while lowering the rates of suspension, expulsion and other disciplinary incidents. Meanwhile, the presence of police in schools leads to an increase in arrests of students — disproportionately students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities — often for common misbehavior that a school could address without the involvement of law enforcement. 

“For too long, the presence of police in schools has resulted in our students – particularly students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities – being criminalized for normal adolescent behavior. And rather than receiving the resources and support that are proven to help them grow and reach their full potential, these students are unjustly put on a pathway to confinement,” said Rep. Pressley. “The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act would disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway by shifting federal resources away from school police and investing in culturally responsive nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed staff. I thank our colleagues for their partnership on this bill and urge Congress to swiftly pass this critical legislation.”

“There is nothing more important than making sure our kids feel safe and supported in the classroom. But right now, too many students, often kids of color or students with disabilities, are arrested by police in schools instead of receiving support that would actually get at the root causes of a child’s behavioral issues. While we’ve seen many school districts across the country make real progress in creating positive learning environments, often by removing police from their hallways, the unfortunate reality is that many schools are reverting back to old disciplinary practices that focus on punishing kids instead of helping them get back on track. We’re reintroducing this legislation because we know putting more counselors and social workers in schools leads to better educational outcomes across the board, and this bill would ensure school districts have the resources they need to make sure school is a safe, nurturing place for every student,” said Senator Murphy.

“Our youth deserve schools where they are supported, not surveilled and punished. For too long, our education system has relied on punitive disciplinary practices and police presence in schools, disproportionately impacting students of color and other marginalized youth. The research clearly shows that this approach has failed. The time has come for a radically different strategy centered on meeting students’ needs and nurturing their growth. I’m proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing a piece of legislation meant to build a more just education system. It is time we change course and invest in mental health professionals to help students thrive,” said Rep. Omar.

“Counselors, social workers, and educators belong in schools – not police. Enough is enough. This bill ensures schools adopt policies and practices that bring students in, not push them out. All students – especially Black and Brown children – deserve a learning environment that meets their most fundamental needs and allows them to reach their full potential. I’ll continue to fight to make that a reality,” said Senator Warren.

“Schools should serve as a pipeline to advance educational and career opportunities—not prison. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act will provide the mental health resources and support necessary for young people, teachers, and communities who have led a nationwide effort for police-free schools. We must continue to fight for essential resources, including counselors and trauma-informed services, so that all students have a healthy and safe learning environments where they can thrive inside and outside the classroom,” said Senator Markey.  

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act would:

  • Prohibit the use of federal funds for maintaining police in schools: Since 1999, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion to increase the number of police in schools. However, evidence does not show this funding has improved student outcomes and school safety. This legislation would prohibit federal funds from being used to hire or maintain police in K-12 schools, diverting that funding toward other uses related to school safety within applicable grant programs.
  • Invest billions to help schools hire counselors, social workers, and other trauma-informed support personnel necessary to create safe, supportive learning environments for all students: The legislation helps schools build safe and positive learning cultures by establishing a new $5 billion grant program to support the hiring of counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and other personnel. The grant would also help schools implement programs to improve school climate, such as school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports, and invest in trauma-informed services and professional development. As more schools move away from policies that criminalize students and push them out of school, this historic investment will ensure districts have the resources to provide students with the supports they need to feel safe in school and thrive.

The legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.-01), Cori Bush (D-Mo.-01),  Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-06), Troy Carter (D-La.-02), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Fla.-20), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.-09), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.-03),  Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas-18), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-07), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.-04), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.-37), Barbra Lee (D-Calif.-12), Summer Lee (D-Pa.-12), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.-14), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.-02), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.-03), Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.-13), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-12), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12), and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.-33).

This legislation is supported by the Activists With A Purpose Plus, Advancement Project, Advocating 4 Kids Inc, Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, Alliance for Quality Education, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), American Association of University Women (AAUW), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Humanist Association, AMORC, ARISE, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Black Organizing Project, Black Swan Academy, Blue Future, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Center for Learner Equity, Center for Popular Democracy, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Children’s Defense Fund, Citizen Action of New York, Committee for Children, Communities United, Community Asset Development Redefining Education (CADRE), Community Organizing And Family Issues, Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities Education Taskforce, Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, CT Black & Brown Student Union, Dignity in Schools Campaign, EPIC- Ensuring Parole for Incarcerated Citizens, EveryBlackGirl, Inc, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, Florida Rising, Freedom, Inc., Georgia Coalition for Equity in Education, Girls Inc., GLSEN, GSA Network, Hearing Youth Voices, Heros Advocacy Group, Human Rights Campaign, IDRA, Kickapoo Peace Circle, Latinos Unidos Siempre, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leaders Igniting Transformation, Maine People’s Alliance, Make the Road Nevada, Make the Road New York , Make the Road NJ, MS Coalition to End Corporal Punishment, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Black Lives Matter at School, National Black Women’s Justice Institute, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Center For Youth Law, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Education Association, National Juvenile Justice Network, National Parents Union, National Urban League, National Women’s Law Center, New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, New Georgia Project, New York Civil Liberties Union, NJ21United, Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc., Parents Organized for Public Education, Partners for Dignity & Rights, Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), Project KnuckleHead, Providence Alliance For Student Safety, Providence Student Union, Providence Youth Student Movement, Public Advocates, Public Justice Center, R.A.C.C.E., Rethink New Orleans, Southern Movement Committee, Stand UP Alaska, Strategies for Youth Inc., Street Democracy, Student Advocacy Center of Michigan, Student Rights Project, Students Deserve, Tennesseans for Non-Violent School Discipline, The Federal School Discipline and Climate Coalition (FedSDC), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, United Women in Faith.

“As an organization that is actively fighting the robust school-to-prison pipeline in Waterbury, CT, a school district in the heart of Senator Murphy’s district, we applaud his and Representative Pressley’s efforts to reintroduce transformational legislation that is long overdue.  As a member of a statewide coalition and a national coalition for police free schools we stand in solidarity and support of each other as we call for an end to the over-policing of school campuses and students all over this country and demand increased investments in school staff and programs that increase school safety and improve school climate in ways that police or policing can not,” said Robert Goodrich, Executive Director of RACCE.

“The presence of police in our K-12 schools is rooted in racism and prejudice. According to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, 82% of LGBTQ+ youth reported feeling unsafe in school – and criminalizing kids only causes more harm to Black and brown queer students, who are already some of the most marginalized youth in our nation. We must divest from the police and invest in school counselors, social workers, classroom materials, and other programs that show students that we value their well-being,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, Executive Director of GLSEN. 

“Children’s Defense Fund applauds Senator Murphy’s ‘Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act’, which adds Credible Messengers to the list of school professionals that could be funded under the bill. We need more student supports, like Credible Messengers, who share similar lived experiences with the students they mentor. Such work has proven to be far more effective than over-policing campuses, which often makes Black and Brown students feel unsafe where they are supposed to learn. All children should be able to live with dignity, hope, and joy at school. CDF is excited to continue working with Senator Murphy to build support for this bill,” said Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Children’s Defense Fund.

“The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is pleased to support the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act and stands with Hill champions, parents and advocates to call for bold action to dismantle the systemic and institutionalized racism deeply embedded in exclusionary discipline policies and policing in schools. We call for an end to the use of harsh discipline; criminalization of students; and the use of law enforcement in schools. Schools must be transformed to promote learning; allow students to form positive and trusting relationships with trained and knowledgeable adults that are supportive of their complex needs; and encourage the use of evidence-based strategies to promote positive behavior. Enacting this legislation would help us achieve these goals and build the capacity of schools in support of all students, including students with disabilities,” said Denise Marshall, CEO for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).

“When we speak with young people about the dreams they have for their lives, they talk about wanting schools where they feel safe, loved, and supported, not punished and policed. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act will help to transform schools into the places we all envision for young people by investing in evidence-based practices and support personnel, and ending federal support for harmful school-based law enforcement,” said Morgan Craven, National Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement at the Intercultural Development Research Association.

A copy of the bill text can be found here, and a summary is here.

In April 2023, Rep. Pressley re-introduced her Ending PUSHOUT Act, her bold legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway. The Ending PUSHOUT Act, originally introduced in Congress in December 2019 and reintroduced in October 2021, is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee and is a continuation of her longstanding history of working to address issues of criminalization during her tenure on the Boston City Council.

In December 2022, Rep. Pressley released a letter she sent with Speaker-Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro requesting a Government Accountability Office (GOA) study on the pushout crisis in K-12 schools.

In February 2022 at a House Education and Labor Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Pressley discussed how the pandemic-induced youth mental health crisis and unprecedented levels of childhood trauma will exacerbate the school pushout of Black and brown students—particularly Black, Latinx and Native American girls and Black girls with disabilities.