As uprisings against racial injustice have laid bare centuries of systemic police brutality, school districts around the country are reconsidering their relationship with local police departments. They are doing so under the backdrop of severe declines in school funding and imminent budget cuts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 62 superintendents from major school districts including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami wrote they’re bracing for 15 to 25 percent cuts in overall revenues going into next school year.

However, some cities, such as Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, and Oakland are moving forward with resolutions to cut ties with the police, which would reverse state-wide decisions over the last decade to ramp up funding for policing in schools. This comes as evidence shows harm to marginalized student populations without an increase in school safety, as well as the ways in which school resource officers, or SROs, contribute to the school-to-prison-pipeline rather than to safer educational environments.

The call is to reimagine school safety and invest funds currently spent on armed law enforcement into restorative practices, social and emotional development, health, and counseling.

12 Facts About School Police and the School-to-Prison-Pipeline

  • A 2019 report shows that since the Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas shootings, states have allocated an additional $965 million to law enforcement in schools.
  • According to the 2019 ACLU report Cops and No Counselors1.7 million students are in schools with cops but no counselors; 3 million students attend schools with cops but no nurses; 6 million students attend schools with cops but no school psychologists, and 10 million students are in schools with cops but no social workers.
  • Out of 2.6 million total out-of-school suspensions in the 2015-16 school year, 40.6 percent were Black students and 31.7 percent were white students. Within the public school system, Black students make up 15.4 percent and white students make up 48.9 percent. Thus, despite making up a much smaller proportion of the public school student population, Black students are four times more likely to be suspended and three and a half times more likely to be arrested in school than their white peers.

  • Schools employing school police see increases in reported student offenses and school-based arrests by as much as 400 percent, according to a 2009 study.
  • Researchers have found few differences between Black and white youth regarding common areas of arrest: they are roughly as likely to get into fights, carry weapons, steal property, use and sell controlled substances, and skip school. Data from 2016 shows that, despite these behavioral similarities, Black teenagers were 2.3 times more likely than white teenagers to be arrested for all delinquent offenses.
  • As of 2018, Black students were three times more likely than non-Black students to attend a school with more security staff than mental health personnel.
  • According to the ACLU in 2019, in North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan, Black girls were more than 8 times as likely to be arrested than white girls. According to the same study, Black girls are arrested at 4 times the rate of white girls nationally.

  • According to data collected from more than 95,500 schools in the 2013-14 school year, the average arrest rate in California schools where more than 80 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch is seven times the average arrest rate in schools where fewer than 20 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch.
  • Students with disabilities accounted for more than 67 percent of all students placed in seclusion, involuntary confinement, or physical restraint at school in the 2014-15 school year.
  • While students with disabilities are just 11.7 percent of the K-12 population, they account for a quarter of all suspensions and expulsions, and nearly 30 percent of students referred to law enforcement, according to a 2018 U.S. Government Office of Accountability.
  • A 2019 study found that students at schools with higher relative suspension rates were 15 to 20 percent more likely to be arrested later in life.
  • A 2020 study from the National Black Justice Coalition found that 44.7 percent of Black LGBTQ+ youth had experienced some form of discipline, either detention, suspension, or expulsion.


The criminalization of Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and disabled students at the hands of SROs has fueled a school-to-prison-pipeline that follows students far beyond their youth. As educators begin to wake up to the grave emotional and developmental harm that putting law enforcement officers in schools causes, school districts now have the chance to reallocate their resources towards adequate mental health staff who can contribute to a more equitable, just, and meaningful future for all students.


Karen Dolan |

Download a PDF version here

Prepared by Uma Nagarajan-Swenson and Cecilia Scheuer. They are Next Leader Fellows in the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Brian Wakamo produced the data visualizations and Karen Dolan edited the factsheet.

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