June's News You Can Use: #PoliceFreeSchools; what reopening means for school funding

In this issue:

  1. The time is now for #PoliceFreeSchools
  2. What will schools need to re-open in a pandemic?

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1. #PoliceFreeSchools

“The police were not put into schools to keep Black and Brown kids safe. They were added as a control measure to keep Brown and Black kids from demonstrating against the social conditions that harm them.”  

--A CPS Mom Explains How the CPD Got Into CPS and How to Get Cops Out of Schools” by Cassandra Kaczocha

Black and Brown youth in Illinois, along with adult allies, have been organizing for many years to demand an end to punitive policies like zero tolerance and exclusionary discipline and police in schools and, at the same time, to demand provision of resources for their schools to address what students and schools really need for safety and security. Ending criminalization of Black youth, in and out of schools, is one of the planks in the Movement for Black Lives’ 2016 policy platform on ending the war on Black people

Now, the US is in the midst of an uprising against police brutalizing and killing of Black people with weeks of protests across the nation, across our state and around the world. The uprising was ignited by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, but it’s been sustained by the anger over hundreds of people---disproportionately Black---who die at the hands of the police year in and year out in the US, a genocide that takes place against a backdrop of institutional racism at every level in our society, including our schools.

As part of this uprising, the calls to remove police from schools and use those funds to provide for real student safety and health have grown even louder, and districts are beginning to respond. Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, and Seattle have now all said they will end their contractual relationship with police departments; many more districts around the country are considering this

Chicago Tribune: Commentary - Remove Chicago police from CPS schools by Miranda Johnson, Loyola’s Education Law and Policy Institute

Students are leading the call for police-free schools in Chicago. We firmly agree: Law-enforcement agents do not belong in schools. Stationing police officers in schools harms the safety, security and the educational experience of students, in particular Black and Latinx students, low-income students and students with disabilities. Police in schools create an environment that inherently criminalizes students, contributing to the trauma that many students experience outside of school and serving as the starting point for the school-to-prison pipeline. Surveillance by police working in schools is not covered by state or federal privacy laws, leaving students and families with no protections of their right to privacy of their educational record and personal information. In the wake of a global pandemic, massive economic depression and social unrest stemming from the systemic oppression of Black people by the police, the only humane policy response is to defund police and remove them from our schools

In Illinois schools police officers and security guards together outnumber any category of clinicians providing mental-health services: nurses, psychologists, social workers or counselors.

And, furthermore, our schools do not meet recommended staffing levels for any of these clinicians. See this report from the ACLU last year for complete data.

And yet the law enforcement lobby has such power in our state that two years ago, a bill to give schools matching grants for moving money from school resource officers to fund clinicians was staunchly opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police who did not want any decrease in police in schools. The provision to reallocate funds from school resource officers to counselors was removed to get the bill through the General Assembly (where it was vetoed by then Gov. Rauner.) Last spring it passed and was signed into law as SB1941, but it still needs funding appropriated. This initiative was part of the ongoing Rethinking Safety campaign, led by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE).

What you can do now: If you are a Chicagoan, sign and share this letter-writing campaign we’ve endorsed to end the $33 million contract between CPD and CPS. The coalition working on this campaign has a week of actions to take this week; follow them on social media here and here.

A coalition led by VOYCE is also campaigning to get police out of CPS and replacing them with Health Equity Action Response Teams. Find more info about that here.

If you are not in Chicago, look into what your district is spending on school resource officers and security guards, what’s being spent on positive supports for students, and how that is affecting the discipline rates, arrest rate and dropout rate of students by race, gender and disability. The US Department of Education website is a good place to start. And ProPublica has an interactive tool you can use to explore that same data.


2. What will schools need to re-open in a pandemic?

The General Assembly met at the end of May for four days to work solely on budgetary and COVID-19 legislative measures and do not plan to return before November. Issues like play in schools, the ending of seclusion and restraint for children with disabilities, an elected school board for Chicago, and the expansion of privacy protections were all pushed to the side.  

In good news, the state education budget including funds that go to districts will not be cut for the coming school year. The bad news, however, is that additional monies pledged to be added each year to Evidence-Based Funding when the new formula was passed three years ago won’t be added. Although the state’s tax revenue will be down drastically because of the pandemic, the plan is to make it up through borrowing to be paid back, ideally, by additional federal dollars (not yet appropriated by the feds).

Chalkbeat Chicago: No cuts to Illinois education, but schools warn COVID will push up costs

Phi Delta Kappan: Weathering the storm: School funding in the COVID-19 era by Bruce Baker, et al.

School funding in Illinois is still billions short of where it should be to adequately fund our kids’ education, and it will not make even incremental progress towards adequacy this year with no increase in EBF. Worse yet, a national administrators group has estimated the additional costs of resuming school in the fall at about $500 per student. This is a very barebones estimate covering only personal protective equipment, additional sanitizing supplies and the additional labor of a nurse in every school and extra cleaning staff. It does not include any costs of social distancing: i.e. space and staffing to reduce the number of students in a room, school or school bus nor costs of support for remote learning or staggered schedules.  But even these minimal measures for pandemic school would come to about an additional $1 billion for Illinois schools this year.

Although ISBE approved in-person summer school for groups smaller than 10 people, the science is still uncertain on the risks of returning to school buildings. Seventy percent of the epidemiologists who responded to a recent NY Times survey said they’d send children back to school by fall, but this statement was usually conditional on adequate implementation of sanitation, masking and social distancing; none of which are likely in most schools without an unprecedented infusion of dollars.

Politico: School reopenings in Europe reduce virus concerns — mostly

Ed Week:  Keeping Students and Staff Healthy and Safe When Schools Reopen

What you can do now: Contact your US Senators (Durbin, Duckworth) and US Representative and urge them to pass another round of federal funding for K-12 to make sure schools can open safely and we do not repeat the mistakes of the previous economic recession where school funding was cut and never recovered. (The House has passed one version already, but it hasn’t gone anywhere in the Senate.) You can send them a link to the Weathering the storm: School funding in the COVID-19 era which details how this should be done.


[Graphic used via Creative Commons]