DENVER—Representatives Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City have put forward a bill to impact funding for law enforcement and security operations in schools by de-emphasizing eligibility for marijuana tax grants under three state education grant programs.
House Bill 20-1238 requires the Department of Education to give preference to grant applications that “articulate a strong, comprehensive approach to significantly reduce the use of school policing, school resource officers, and invasive security technologies and practices.”
While not defining what “invasive security technologies and practices” are the bill says, “Students of color are disproportionately affected by excessive use of law enforcement and invasive security practices in schools.”
The legislative declaration says, “Colorado schools have become overly reliant on school-based law enforcement personnel to handle minor offenses that do not pose a serious threat to school safety.”
Concerned about a “school-to-prison pipeline” caused by overreliance on School Resource Officer (SRO) handling of “minor offenses that to do not pose a serious threat to school safety,” the bill focuses funding from the three programs on things like “restorative justice,” “training for school staff on restorative practices” and “addressing the effects of toxic stress,” as well as drug and alcohol treatment services, wraparound services for youth and adding psychologists and social workers in schools.
Nationwide schools are trying to remove uniformed law enforcement from schools on the premise that “zero tolerance” policies and police in schools leads to criminalizing minor school-rule infractions that should be handled by school officials.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says there is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”
Left largely unaddressed in the ongoing discussions is why schools do not revise the duties of SROs to restrict them to the role of guarding and defending schools and leaving school discipline to school officials.
Stories of children being arrested, handcuffed and expelled for things like bringing a plastic butter knife or fingernail clippers to school or even pointing a finger in a gun-like gesture abound, and zero-tolerance policies in Colorado have led to a student being suspended for posting photos of legal off-campus gun related activities on social media.
As reported by Complete Colorado Northern News Bureau reporter Sherrie Peif August 28, 2019, 16-year-old Loveland High School junior Nathan Myers was suspended after he published a Snapchat video of some handguns and an AR-15 while at a shooting range with his parents. An anonymous complaint to the Safe-2-Tell hotline triggered the action by the Thompson Valley School District. Myers was reinstated the next day.
How these grant restrictions might affect school hardening and security programs like installing barriers to entry and safety improvements in schools is unclear.
The programs affected include the expelled and at-risk student services grant program (EARSS), the school bullying prevention and education grant program (BPEG), and the behavioral health care professional matching grant program (HCPMG).
All three programs are funded through the marijuana tax cash fund, which collects sales tax revenues from retail and medical marijuana sales.
The EARSS program purpose is “to assist in providing educational and support services to expelled students, students at risk of suspension and expulsion, and students at risk of habitual truancy as defined by unexcused absences.”
The program was allocated $9.43 million in 2019 and served 279 expelled students, 4,805 students at risk of expulsion and 3,099 truant students or students at risk of habitual truancy in 2018-19.
The BPEG program provides funding “to reduce the frequency of bullying incidents” in schools.
The program is allocated $2 million per year and since 2011 has distributed nearly $6.5 million to local education agencies that receive an average of $155,000 each yearly.
The HCPMG is intended to “address behavioral health issues in schools” and increase the number of health professionals in Colorado schools.
The program was allocated $11.9 million in 2018-19.
Marijuana tax funding for all educational programs in 2017-18 comprised $90.3 million of the overall K-12 state education funding of $5.6 billion.
Multiple attempts to reach the sponsors for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.