Pressley, Murphy, Warren, Omar, Bowman, Smith Introduce Bill To End The Criminalization Of Students, Invest In Counselors, Safer Environment For Kids

June 17, 2021
Press Release
Legislation Provides Resources for Schools to Hire Counselors, Other Health Professionals Rather than Police

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Press Conference

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), unveiled the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, bold legislation that would help disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway, invest in safe and nurturing school climates that support all students and bring an end to the over-policing of our nation’s K-12 schools.

The legislation is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee, her visionary resolution to transform the American criminal legal system that calls for schools to create safe and nurturing environments that provide all students with the opportunity to heal, thrive and reach their highest potential.

“Every student deserves to learn in a setting free from fear, but when our education system is intertwined with the criminal legal system, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately criminalized for normal childhood behavior and are put on a pathway to confinement,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would address this by shifting federal resources away from school police and investing in culturally responsive nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed staff that are proven to help our youth grow and reach their full potential. We must root out systemic oppression everywhere it exists—including in our schools—and I thank my colleagues for their partnership in this effort.”

“Right now, too many students, and often kids of color or with disabilities, are arrested by police in schools. The classroom should be a safe place to learn, and the data shows that having counselors and other licensed professionals on staff actually leads to better educational outcomes,” said Sen. Murphy. “I’m re-introducing legislation that would give school districts new resources to increase the presence of support personnel in schools so kids are arrested less and have qualified professionals around to address disciplinary issues in a way that makes students feel supported. It’s just one way we can start to chip away at the racial inequities in our educational system and make sure all kids have a safe place to learn and grow.”

The data shows that counselors, social workers, psychologists and other trained professionals actually improve social and educational outcomes for kids in schools—whereas the involvement of police in schools leads to the criminalization of students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act would prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead provide $5 billion in new grant funding to help schools hire more counselors social workers, and other behavioral health personnel and implement services in schools that create positive and safe climates for all students.

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act:

  • Prohibits the use of federal funds for maintaining police in schools: Since 1999, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion to support the increased presence of police in schools. However, evidence does not show that this investment has improved student outcomes and school safety. This legislation would prohibit federal funds to support the hiring, maintaining, or training of police officers in K-12 schools and instead divert that funding toward the many other uses related to school safety within applicable grant programs.
  • Invests billions to help schools hire counselors, social workers, and other trauma-informed support personnel necessary to create safe and inclusive learning environments: The legislation helps districts build safe and inclusive schools by establishing a $5 billion grant program to support the hiring of counselors, social workers, nurses, school psychologists, and other personnel. Further, the grant program helps districts implement strategies to improve school climate, such as school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports, and invest in trauma-informed services and professional development. As more school districts choose to move away from policies that criminalize students and push them out of school, this historic investment will ensure districts have the necessary resources to provide students with the supports they need to feel safe in school and thrive.
  • Incentivizes states and districts to bring an end to the criminalization of young people,  particularly Black, Native American and Latino students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students and other historically marginalized students and instead invest in safe and nurturing environments where all students can thrive.

“Counselors, nurses, social workers, and educators belong in schools. Police do not,” said Senator Warren. “Our bill will bring us one step closer to ending the militarization of our public schools that disproportionately hurts Black and Brown students, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and ensuring we give every child the resources they need to feel safe and thrive.”

“Every single student deserves a quality education, and the support to make that possible. But in districts across America, educational outcomes are radically unequal, particularly for children of color and kids with disabilities. In my hometown of Minneapolis, black students are 41% of the student population, but make up three quarters of all suspensions. At one middle school in my district, African American students are 338% more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to the most recent data. Kids need support, not punishment. I am proud to join this bicameral effort to invest in social workers, counselors and personnel in schools to make sure our most vulnerable kids have the support they need,” said Rep. Omar.

"Stationing police officers in places of learning creates an environment of criminalization from an early age — making it more challenging for our children to focus on their learning, growth, and unlocking their full potential,” said Rep. Bowman. “When we put an officer in a school, we're sending a message that our children require surveillance. When we put a counselor in a school, we're sending a message that our children deserve nurturing and support. The emotional, mental, and social trauma of the past year and beyond makes the Counseling Not Criminalization Act even more urgent. Our Black and brown students have shouldered a disproportionate burden during the pandemic, and we know they face a disproportionate amount of policing and criminalization in school. Let’s act now to decrease police presence and provide our schools with resources for counseling and mental health support students deserve."

“We need to root out systemic oppression in schools. This challenge might seem insurmountable, but there are clear next steps on the path forward,” said Senator Smith. “We should start by removing police from schools and hiring more school counselors, social workers, and other behavioral health personnel to improve school culture and outcomes for students. By transforming the way that schools approach discipline, we can decrease the criminalization of all students, especially students of color and students with disabilities.”

This week, Congresswoman Pressley submitted testimony to the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion in which she urged lawmakers to prioritize legislation that will dismantle the school-to-confinement pathway by reallocating funding from school-based law enforcement and investing that money in culturally responsive nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed staff.

The legislation has the support of a broad coalition of advocacy groups, including, at the national level:

A Black Education Network; A Little Piece of Life; Advancement Project National Office; Advocating for Kids, Inc; American Association for People with Disabilities; Alliance for Educational Justice; American Civil Liberties Union; Anti Police-Terror Project; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Aztlan Media – Launch 2024; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; BiNet USA; Black Parallel School Board; Blacks in Law Enforcement of America; Blue Future; Blue Hills Civic Association; Breaking the Chains of Your Mind; CASA; Center for Disability Rights; Center for Learning Equity; Children’s Haven: A Place of Healing and Hope, Inc.; Children’s Defense Fund; Children’s Law Center, Inc.; Chispa; Church World Service; CLASP A New Deal for Youth Changemakers; Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues; Coalition of Labor Union Women, AFL-CIO; Committee for Children; Communities for Just Schools Fund; Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice; Critical Exposure; Deep Center; Defending Rights & Dissent; Dignity in Schools; Disability Rights Advocates; Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund; Drug Policy Alliance; Education Justica Alliance; Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; EveryBlackGirl, Inc.; Feminist Majority Foundation; First Focus Campaign for Children; Girls Inc.; GLSEN; Health in Justice Action Lab; Hispanic Federation; Hour Children; Human Rights Campaign; Intercultural Development Research Association; Justice for Families; Justice Strategies; Justice Teams Network; Juvenile Law Center; LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Los Angeles United School District; Leaders Igniting Transformation; League of Women Voters of the United States; Legal Aid Justice Center; Mommieactivist and Sons; MomsRising; NAACP; NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc.; NAMINYS Criminal Justice Committee; National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity; National Black Justice Coalition; National Center for Learning Disabilities; National Center for Youth Law; National Council of Churches; National Crittenton; National Disability Rights Network (NDRN); National Down Syndrome Congress; National Education Association; National Equality Action Team; National Immigration Law Center; National Juvenile Justice Network; National Women’s Law Center; New Athens Creative, Inc.; Next Level Vision, Inc.; Open Society Policy Center; Parents Organized for Public Education; Polemics: Journal of the Workingclass Struggle and National Writers Union; Policing and Social Justice Project; Poverty & Race Research Action Council; Project KnuckleHead; Public Advocacy for Kids; Public Justice; RACCE; Rebuilding Independence My Style; Sociedad Latina; Southern Coalition for Justice; Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund; SPACEs In Action; Stand for Children; Strategies for Youth; Students for Sensible Drug Policy; The Advocacy Institute; The Black Police Experience; The Center for Law and Social Policy; The Center for Popular Democracy; The Choice Program at UMBC; The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; The Daniel Initiative; The Education Trust; The Gathering for Justice; The Institute for Compassion in Justice; The Justice Roundtable; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; The National Black Child Development Institute; The National Parents Union; The School Social Work Association of America; The Sentencing Project; United Methodist Women; Urban Youth Collaborative; Vday; Who Speaks For Me; Women’s Leadership Project; Working Narratives; Young Voices; Youth Over Guns; YWCA USA; 

It also has the support of a coalition of local organizations, including Arkansas Community Organizations; Baltimore People’s Climate Movement; Baltimore Police Free Schools Coalition; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Black & Pink Massachusetts; California Children’s Trust; Center for Children’s Advocacy (CT); Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education; Clevelanders Against Federal Policing; Collierville Community Justice; CT Students for a Dream; DC Prep PrepNext and ANC 1A07; DeCarcerate Memphis; Disability Rights Oregon; Education Law Center (PA); End Mass Incarceration Georgia Network; Equality California; Faith in New Jersey; Faith in Texas; Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children; Family Law Practice Clinic (CUNY School of Law); Florida Student Power Network; Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline; Hilton Head for Peace; Institute for Compassion in Justice (KY); Just City Memphis; Kentucky Student Voice Team; Lehigh Valley Stands Up; LAUSD; Living United for Change in Arizona; Make the Road Nevada; Make the Road New York; March for Our Lives DC; Next Level Vision DC; Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc.; One Pennsylvania – Education Rights Network; Our Revolution Ohio; Pa’lante Restorative Justice; Reclaim Our Schools LA; Rights & Democracy VT and NH; Silver State Equality – Nevada; Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York; Southern Maine Showing Up for Racial Justice; Special Education Equity for Kids (CT); SURJ Ohio; Tenants and Workers United; Uplift MN LLC.

“Students, especially youth with disabilities and Black and Brown youth, continue to be overpoliced in our nation’s schools. The federal government must stop funding this school-to-prison pipeline. We must divest from school policing and reinvest in counselors, social workers, and nurses who support our students and communities,” said West Resendes of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"For years we have seen troubling patterns in our public schools: students with disabilities, students of color, and other marginalized students are more harshly disciplined, referred to law enforcement, and arrested. It is time that schools truly become a safe place for every child to learn and grow. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act is a step toward helping every school can invest in what works: the use of evidence-based and trauma-informed services and increasing access to counselors, social workers and mental health professionals. Schools must have these building blocks to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” said Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

"I grew up in a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood where I have watched the impact that policing has had in our schools," said Mariet Leana, youth leader at Make the Road New York and Urban Youth Collaborative. "I have witnessed young people lose their hope and feel that schools are no longer safe places for them because of an overwhelming number of police officers and so few counselors, therapists and other support services that students need to thrive. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act will invest desperately needed resources into the support that students need: counseling — not criminalization."

“LGBTQ+ young people, especially those who are BIPOC and students with disabilities, are entering the school-to-prison pipeline at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Discriminatory policies and practices—especially the routine reliance on school-based law enforcement—is at the root of this inequity,” said GLSEN Interim Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers (she/they). “GLSEN is proud to endorse the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act as a crucial step towards decriminalizing youth by investing instead in counseling and health services that foster positive, LGBTQ+ inclusive school climates and promote students’ wellbeing and academic success.”

“The cops in our schools are the same cops that control, terrorize, and criminalize Black, Brown and poor people on our streets,” said Katherine Dunn, Director of Advancement Project National Office’s Opportunity to Learn program. “It’s past time that we listen to young people who are demanding Police Free Schools and an end to the system that disproportionately harms and oppresses youth of color. Advancement Project National Office is proud to support this effort to shift federal resources away from school policing and towards the supportive, restorative resources that our kids need to learn, grow, and thrive.”

“The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act invests in students' mental health and wellbeing and divests from racist and harmful disciplinary actions which impact young peoples' health and livelihoods. The bill is an important first step to bringing about needed change in school climate, as all young people deserve to feel safe and supported,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

“The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act will mean that our nation has begun to invest in what actually works to keep our kids safe and in school – counselors, social workers, restorative justice staff, and other behavioral support personnel – and will also mean the nation is stepping away from what doesn’t work: harmful and punitive police in schools. We look forward to helping the bill’s sponsors to ensure this important legislation advances to enactment,” said the National Center for Youth Law.

In March 2021, 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 bill, which she initially introduced in December 2019, is also 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.

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