Defund the police, not education

In a country as wealthy as the U.S., you would think ensuring that students have access to quality education and services would not be an issue. You would think that in a country as wealthy as ours, it would be a priority that students and their families remain in good health and have access to health care, as well as mental health care during a global pandemic. You would think that national COVID-19 testing would be required before opening up the doors of schools to students, educators, and staff.

In this country, the people expect these basic public health needs to be met considering the wealth we have generated. Instead, our reality is we continue to see our public schools defunded, and the funds invested into a brutal, repressive, militarized police force whose purpose is to exercise lethal force on all, irrespective of age, race, gender, or supposed criminality. To reverse this inequity, we should defund the police – not our public education system.  

As of early June, this year, on-duty police had  killed  429 people across the United States. If this rate continues, more than one person a day will be killed by police in 2020. According to the Police Integrity Research group at Bowling Green State, on-duty police claim the lives of between 900 and 1,100 people, a year  – with fewer than eight deaths, on average, resulting in indictments and even fewer convictions.

Despite the plethora of evidence showing the repressive and violent nature of the police across the nation, the uprising against racist police brutality and terror which occurred in Ferguson in 2014, as well as Baltimore in 2015 were not enough to convince Democrats or Republicans that something needs to be done about police departments across the nation. The disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous and Latino people behind bars has not been enough for politicians to take the cries of Black America and all working class people seriously. Politicians continue to ignore the needs of the people, and instead use taxpayers money to  fund and militarize oppressive police forces. 

For example, the New York Police Department has one of the largest police forces in the nation. In fact, if the NYPD were a military, it would be the 7th largest military in the world due to its size and the level of militarization. Despite the decreasing rate of crime, taxpayers’ money continues to be poured into an institution which criminalizes, brutalizes, rapes and murders African American and poor working class people. In New York City,  the $6 billion that goes to the NYPD and their continuation of racist police terror, the school-to-prison-pipeline, and continued terrorization of young people and their families, should be be spent on  public schools and the communities in which our students live, where they should be made to feel safe from brutalization at the hands of the police. Further, there are over 10,000 children who are homeless in the NYC public school system; our society needs to invest in them instead of the police. 

In April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 469,000 public school district employees nationally lost their jobs. These positions include K-12 teachers, school librarians, college advisors, aides who work with students with disabilities, counselors and more. The number of teachers and personnel has still not recovered from the 2008 recession. In fact, the two largest teacher unions, the NEA and the UFT have asked Congress for at minimum $75 billion for their public schools to survive the coming months, but instead Congress only gave them $13.5 billion. These cuts will hurt the education and futures of young people for years, even decades to come – especially students of color in low income and working class neighborhoods.  Making public schools pay for the crisis of the pandemic in the U.S. will not only lead to a loss of jobs, but a doubling and even tripling in some cases of class sizes as well as fewer resources being distributed to schools in poorer districts. 

Returning to the example of New York City,  Mayor Bill DeBlasio plans to make $827 million in cuts to education in the middle of the pandemic! These cuts will directly impact schools and children, especially schools that were already receiving little resources and funding for their students.  The cuts mean a hiring freeze, fewer guidance counselors, and even fewer social workers. In addition, there will be fewer nurses and less money for operating expenses. Amid a pandemic, cuts to operations are unacceptable, considering the level of operating we need to be at to open schools again safely. The higher level of operations needed to reopen safely includes temperature and health screenings, personal protective equipment distribution and systems for enhanced hygiene and social distancing. 

Part of the discussion around reopening schools is the stated desire to close the digital gap between students who live in poverty and are poor, and those who are more affluent. Also, city and education leaders claim students will be all able to be caught up in the fall –  but how will this be done? How can the digital divide be closed, and students get caught up, when teachers, who have died from COVID-19, who have retired, been laid off or excessed, are not being replaced because there is supposedly no funds for it? Who will teach and support children and families around technology? How can you be trying to address the inequities in schools when budget cuts will actually make the inequities greater? 

Full funding for police, while defunding the public education system, criminalizes students and their families, through the increase in militarized police presence on school grounds. Students need more resources when schools reopen in the fall, not tremendous budget cuts. More criminalization and police repression will leave them worse off than they are now. 

We must oppose politicians who claim there is not enough funding for public education, while taxpayer money is being used to militarize our schools and harm our youth. As general poverty deepens, police brutality continues unchecked. The prison state has grown in scope, finding new ways to criminalize and incarcerate vulnerable people. The Republican and Democratic parties both have turned our schools into places where students are criminalized, profiled and oppressed by police officers. The United States government has shown zero regard for the education and lives of its youth as it prioritizes investing more into criminal and juvenile justice systems over social programs that will support the nation’s youth. 

In every state, spending on “corrections” and policing grew at a much higher rate than education spending over the last 30 years, with disastrous effects. For over 30 years, public education has been defunded.  For 30 years, our students have been missing out on quality education and being criminalized in the process.  One snapshot of this process is that during the 2011 – 2012 school year, Black students were only 16 percent of the public school population in the U.S., yet they were 31 percent of those arrested for incidents at schools. That trend has continued. 

Police presence in our schools also increases the level of danger for people who are undocumented and/or have family members who are. Undocumented families live in fear of attending their children’s parent-teacher conferences and after school activities. The people need quality public education for all. The police must be defunded, and our public schools must be fully funded to ensure quality education, health, and safety for all students including Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, Arab, LGBTQ students, poor students, and health for all.

Police presence in schools is traumatizing to students, and this disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and Latino students. Studies on the school to prison pipeline have revealed the criminal role that the police play in shepherding working class students into the criminal justice system, as early as 7 years old. After schools bring police into schools, students become more criminalized as police officers are tasked to deal with school disciplinary issues. 

Police not only terrorize students at school, but also in communities. Departments of Education must break ties with police because police enforce, rather than impede the school to prison pipeline. Investing in police, instead of our public schools, is not only tone deaf – but it is racist, anti-poor, and downright wrong. Continuing to defund our schools, instead of the police, shows clearly whose side state officials are on, and it’s not the side of the people or our youth.

Instead of state, city, and school district leaders scrambling to find ways to re-open schools far too early under the presumption of safety for the sake of the economy, they need to rethink the budgets that are already in place, and redistribute those funds to poor and working class communities and schools that have been victims of the police for far too many decades. Instead of bamboozling families into believing understaffed schools can keep students and families safe from contracting COVID-19 by offering unacceptable models for reopening schools, our government should be setting up mass testing sites to ensure our students, their families, and their communities are truly safe.

Defunding the police, especially during a pandemic, would allow millions and billions of dollars in cities to be redistributed to communities, schools, healthcare, and other social programs that allow people to survive. In order for schools to reopen safely in the fall, schools and communities need more funding, not the continued defunding of public education. Money is needed for mass COVID-19 testing, tracing, and health centers for people who test positive to recover. 

Our youth deserve money for nurses, social workers, guidance counselors, supplies, aides and paras for those with disabilities in their schools. We need to defund the police and use the money to desegregate our schools, and hire more teachers of color, especially Black men. We need that money to make the curriculum accessible to all types of learners, and to ensure that our students are fed and have a safe place to live. 

Our students have experienced so much loss during this pandemic, and are currently fighting and leading a national uprising for Black lives during which they are witnessing the violence and brutality of not just the police, but the oppressive police and military forces across the nation. Instead of continuing to waste funds on the militarization of our schools and communities, we demand that police are defunded, schools break ties with the police and the money be invested in public education, and futures of the youth of NYC. 

The recent revolts against racism in the U.S. have already made this a reality in several major U.S. cities. On June 3, just eight days after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as rebellions against racist police brutality spread across the globe, the city’s School Board voted to cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Deparatment. Two days later, in the city of Portland, the school district’s Superintendent decided to also cut ties with the police. On June 10, Seattle public schools suspended their contract with police for one year. The next day, the Denver school board voted to remove police from schools. The San Francisco School Board voted to cut ties with police on June 23. The next day, the Oakland School Board voted unanimously to pass the “George Floyd Resolution to End the Oakland Schools Police Department”. Nearby, West Contra Costa County in California did the same. In a unanimous vote on June 25, the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education voted not to contract with the police, and to put $600,000 towards funding an Alternative Safety Strategy Task Force.

There are strong student-led movements in Chicago and Los Angeles to remove police from schools, both of which are backed by the city public school teachers unions, and have been in the streets in recent days. Recently, the Boston Teachers Union passed a resolution supporting removing police from Boston public schools which says, “Boston Teachers Union calls on BPS to remove all police from schools including Boston School Police, the Boston Police Department (BPD) (including BPD’s school unit), and all other law enforcement. Furthermore, BTU calls for BPS to invest the $4 million dollars it currently spends on the Boston School Police into mental health services and restorative justice practices in our schools.” A large demonstration of students, families, and teachers rallied in New York City June demanding the school board cut ties with the NYPD. In Phoenix, Arizona,  students have started a petition to remove police from schools.       

We need teacher’s unions to continue to pass resolutions like these and more. Teachers and their unions should make the fight against racism a defining feature of what it means to be a teacher and union member. We know our schools are underfunded and under attack because they serve poor and working class people, particularly Black and Latino communities.

Across the U.S., people in towns and cities large and small are demanding cities and school boards, put their money where their mouth is by fully funding quality education, safety and health for all students, removing police from schools, and defunding the police. As the apparent reopening of schools in the fall draws closer, despite climbing COVID-19 rates in the U.S. which are killing Black people at highly disproportionate rates, the rate of racist police killings continuing, and the deepening of the unemployment crisis which is also disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and Latino people – the struggle of the people for justice is gaining steam and power. Students, their families, and workers who have been in the streets fighting against racism and for justice are ready to continue this historic movement.    

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