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House Lawmakers Seek Federal Money for More School Police Officers


This blog's headline as well as the post have been corrected to reflect that Democrats and Republicans support the legislation. 

House lawmakers on Capitol Hill have introduced legislation that would direct more federal funds to pay the cost of police officers working in schools.

The School Resource Officer Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., would authorize $300 million in funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, compared to current appropriations of $225 million, and require 30 percent of COPS hiring funds to pay for school resource officers' salaries and benefits. The grants would award 75 percent of the cost of SRO salaries and benefits, with a 25 percent local match.

More broadly, the bill states the sense of Congress that school resource officers are "instrumental in establishing community partnerships and providing multidimensional school safety," according to a press release from Mitchell's office. In a statement, Mitchell noted that his son served as an SRO at one time, and that school leaders have frequently extolled their positive impact on safety. "Having a SRO in a school not only provides a safer atmosphere, but these officers often become an integral part of the school community, serving as a positive influence and a reminder of what we expect of our children," Mitchell said.

The legislation's six co-sponsors include Rep. John Rutherford of Florida, a former sheriff, and Rep. Lloyd K. Smucker of Pennsylvania, a member of the House education committee. A total of four Republicans and two Democrats cosponsored the legislation. (This isn't Mitchell's first foray into education issues: Mitchell is the leader of the congressional School Choice Caucus.)

Earlier this year, we published a survey of school resource officers and focused on what they see as their primary responsibility and who they work for. We've also reported that one in five SROs do not believe their schools are prepared for an active shooter.

Learn more about school resource officers in this Education Week video from earlier this year:

Not everyone is a fan of SROs like Mitchell. Some worry that they too often intervene in school disciplinary situations that don't actually call for a response for law enforcement. There are also concerns they create an unsafe and disproportionately unfair environment for students of color in particular. A school resource officer's violent arrest of an African-American student in South Carolina in 2016 touched on both of these concerns.

The issue remains salient. On Tuesday, a group of student activists gathered in Washington to demand police-free schools:

Photo: School resource officer Don Bridges, center, talks with 9th grade student Jason Richardson, right, and school registrar Darlene Gilberto, at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Md. Bridges helped launch the Baltimore County school district's police program. (Matt Roth for Education Week)

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