After months of pressure from local activists, Chicago Public Schools announced today that it will cut its funding for school police by more than half.
The school district’s proposed $6.9 billion annual budget, released today, cuts funding for school resource officers (SROs) to patrol school hallways from $33 million to no more than $15 million. The school district attributed the reductions to the COVID-shortened school year and the elimination of 48 mobile patrol officers.
“This reduction will allow the district to support the significant investments it is making in other areas while maintaining SRO support for the school communities that vote to remain in the program,” the school district said in a press release accompanying the budget.
Over the last few months, school districts across the country have faced demands to remove or reduce the presence of school resource officers. So far, San Francisco is the largest school district to move toward defunding its SRO program. The Oakland school board also voted unanimously to eliminate the district’s police department and shift its $2.5 million budget to student support services. Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Charlottesville, and Portland, Oregon, have also ended or suspended relationships with local police.
Civil liberties groups have long argued that police in schools, along with absurd zero-tolerance policies, exacerbate the “school-to-prison” pipeline and funnel minor offenders into the criminal justice system.
Police departments and organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers say that well-trained SROs act as liaisons between the school and police department. And school officials have fretted about their ability to respond to potential mass shootings if they slash SRO budgets. Citing those concerns, the Chicago Board of Education rejected a proposal in June to end its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
But individual schools in Chicago have until Friday to decide whether they want to continue using CPD officers. Local news outlet WTTW reports that five Chicago public schools so far have voted to remove police officers from their campuses.
Activists who supported the Chicago Board of Education proposal to end the school district’s contract with CPD cited a 2019 incident in which video showed CPD officers kicking, punching, and tasing a 16-year-old girl.
The Justice Department’s 2017 report on unconstitutional policing in Chicago found that CPD officers used non-lethal force with abandon, including tasing children for non-criminal conduct or minor violations.
Chicago officials insist they’ve made, and are continuing to make, significant reforms to the SRO program.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed calls to remove CPD entirely from the city’s schools. “We all want change,” Lightfoot said. “But we want to do the right things. We don’t want to just do cosmetic changes or quick changes that end up creating more problems and make our communities and schools less safe.”
The school district’s contract with the city’s police department expires at the end of the month, and the board is scheduled to vote on a new contract on August 26.