WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), along with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Thursday unveiled legislation that would invest in safe and nurturing school climates that support all students and address the over-policing of our nation’s K-12 schools.

The data shows that counselors, social workers, psychologists and other trained professionals actually improve social and educational outcomes for kids in schools—whereas the involvement of police in schools leads to the criminalization of students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act would prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead provide $5 billion in new grant funding to help schools hire more counselors, social workers, and other behavioral health personnel and implement services in schools that create positive and safe climates for all students.

“Right now, too many students, and often kids of color or with disabilities, are arrested by police in schools. The classroom should be a safe place to learn, and the data shows that having counselors and other licensed professionals on staff actually leads to better educational outcomes,” said Murphy. “I’m re-introducing legislation that would give school districts new resources to increase the presence of support personnel in schools so kids are arrested less and have qualified professionals around to address disciplinary issues in a way that makes students feel supported. It’s just one way we can start to chip away at the racial inequities in our educational system and make sure all kids have a safe place to learn and grow.”

“Every student deserves to learn in a setting free from fear, but when our education system is intertwined with the criminal legal system, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with disabilities are disproportionately criminalized for normal childhood behavior and are put on a pathway to confinement,” said Pressley. “Our bill would address this by shifting federal resources away from school police and investing in culturally responsive nurses, mental health professionals, and other trauma-informed staff that are proven to help our youth grow and reach their full potential. We must root out systemic oppression everywhere it exists—including in our schools—and I thank my colleagues for their partnership in this effort.”

“Counselors, nurses, social workers, and educators belong in schools. Police do not,” said Warren. “Our bill will bring us one step closer to ending the militarization of our public schools that disproportionately hurts Black and Brown students, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and ensuring we give every child the resources they need to feel safe and thrive.”

“We need to root out systemic oppression in schools. This challenge might seem insurmountable, but there are clear next steps on the path forward,” said Smith. “We should start by removing police from schools and hiring more school counselors, social workers, and other behavioral health personnel to improve school culture and outcomes for students. By transforming the way that schools approach discipline, we can decrease the criminalization of all students, especially students of color and students with disabilities.”

“Every single student deserves a quality education, and the support to make that possible. But in districts across America, educational outcomes are radically unequal, particularly for children of color and kids with disabilities. In my hometown of Minneapolis, black students are 41% of the student population, but make up three quarters of all suspensions. At one middle school in my district, African American students are 338% more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to the most recent data. Kids need support, not punishment. I am proud to join this bicameral effort to invest in social workers, counselors and personnel in schools to make sure our most vulnerable kids have the support they need,” said Omar.

"Stationing police officers in places of learning creates an environment of criminalization from an early age — making it more challenging for our children to focus on their learning, growth, and unlocking their full potential,” said Bowman. “When we put an officer in a school, we're sending a message that our children require surveillance. When we put a counselor in a school, we're sending a message that our children deserve nurturing and support. The emotional, mental, and social trauma of the past year and beyond makes the Counseling Not Criminalization Act even more urgent. Our Black and brown students have shouldered a disproportionate burden during the pandemic, and we know they face a disproportionate amount of policing and criminalization in school. Let’s act now to decrease police presence and provide our schools with resources for counseling and mental health support students deserve."

"For decades, policymakers have stripped critical resources away from social services such as education and mental health while investing over a billion dollars towards policing schools; thereby exacerbating the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline,” said Dmitri Holtzman, campaigns manager at the Center for Popular Democracy. “This legislation is a crucial step towards addressing the criminalization of students in school –– particularly students of color and students with disabilities –– and responds to young people's demands for police-free schools, as articulated in the Youth Mandate for Education and Liberation."

“The cops in our schools are the same cops that control, terrorize, and criminalize Black, Brown and poor people on our streets,” said Katherine Dunn, Director of Advancement Project National Office’s Opportunity to Learn program. “It’s past time that we listen to young people who are demanding Police Free Schools and an end to the system that disproportionately harms and oppresses youth of color. Advancement Project National Office is proud to support this effort to shift federal resources away from school policing and towards the supportive, restorative resources that our kids need to learn, grow, and thrive.”

"I grew up in a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood where I have watched the impact that policing has had in our schools," said Mariet Leana, youth leader at Make the Road New York and Urban Youth Collaborative. "I have witnessed young people lose their hope and feel that schools are no longer safe places for them because of an overwhelming number of police officers and so few counselors, therapists and other support services that students need to thrive. The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act will invest desperately needed resources into the support that students need: counseling — not criminalization."

The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act:

  • Prohibits the use of federal funds for maintaining police in schools: Since 1999, the federal government has spent more than $1 billion to support the increased presence of police in schools. However, evidence does not show that this investment has improved student outcomes and school safety. This legislation would prohibit federal funds to support the hiring, maintaining, or training of police officers in K-12 schools and instead divert that funding toward the many other uses related to school safety within applicable grant programs.
  • Invests billions to help schools hire counselors, social workers, and other trauma-informed support personnel necessary to create safe and inclusive learning environments: The legislation helps districts build safe and inclusive schools by establishing a $5 billion grant program to support the hiring of counselors, social workers, nurses, school psychologists, and other personnel. Further, the grant program helps districts implement strategies to improve school climate, such as school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports, and invest in trauma-informed services and professional development. As more school districts choose to move away from policies that criminalize students and push them out of school, this historic investment will ensure districts have the necessary resources to provide students with the supports they need to feel safe in school and thrive.
  • Incentivizes states and districts to bring an end to the criminalization of young people, particularly Black, Native American and Latino students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students and other historically marginalized students and instead invest in safe and nurturing environments where all students can thrive.

This legislation is supported by the National Education Association; American Civil Liberties Union; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; NAACP; NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc.; SPLC Action Fund; The Center for Law and Social Policy; The Education Trust; Open Society Policy Center; The Center for Popular Democracy; Girls Inc.; Advancement Project National Office; Children's Defense Fund; National Women’s Law Center; UnidosUS; Human Rights Campaign; National Center for Youth Law; Drug Policy Alliance; Center for Disability Rights; National Juvenile Justice Network; National Center for Learning Disabilities; National Disability Rights Network (NDRN); GLSEN; YWCA USA; Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; The Daniel Initiative; Dignity in Schools; Communities for Just Schools Fund; The National Black Child Development Institute; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Southern Coalition for Justice; Intercultural Development Research Association; First Focus Campaign for Children; The School Social Work Association of America; The National Parents Union; National Down Syndrome Congress; Alliance for Educational Justice; Committee for Children; Poverty & Race Research Action Council; Stand for Children; A Black Education Network; A Deal For Youth Changemakers; A Little Piece of Life; Advocating for Kids, Inc; American Association for People with Disabilities; Anti Police-Terror Project; Aztlan Media – Launch 2024; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; BiNet USA; Black Parallel School Board; Blacks in Law Enforcement of America; Blue Future; Blue Hills Civic Association; Breaking the Chains of Your Mind; CASA; Center for Learning Equity; Children’s Haven: A Place of Healing and Hope, Inc.; Children’s Law Center, Inc.; Chispa; Church World Service; Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues; Coalition of Labor Union Women, AFL-CIO; Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice; Critical Exposure; Deep Center; Defending Rights & Dissent; Disability Rights Advocates; Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund; Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; EveryBlackGirl, Inc.; Feminist Majority Foundation; Health in Justice Action Lab; Hispanic Federation; Hour Children; Justice for Families; Justice Strategies; Juvenile Law Center; LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Los Angeles United School District; Leaders Igniting Transformation; League of Women Voters of the United States; Legal Aid Justice Center; Mommieactivist and Sons; MomsRising; NAMINYS Criminal Justice Committee; National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity; National Black Justice Coalition; National Council of Churches; National Crittenton; National Equality Action Team; National Immigration Law Center; New Athens Creative, Inc.; Next Level Vision, Inc.; Parents Organized for Public Education; Polemics: Journal of the Workingclass Struggle and National Writers Union; Policing and Social Justice Project; Project KnuckleHead; Public Advocacy for Kids; Public Justice; RACCE; Rebuilding Independence My Style; Sociedad Latina; SPACEs In Action; Strategies for Youth; Students for Sensible Drug Policy; The Advocacy Institute; The Black Police Experience; The Choice Program at UMBC; The Gathering for Justice; The Institute for Compassion in Justice; The Justice Roundtable; The Sentencing Project; United Methodist Women; Urban Youth Collaborative; Vday; Who Speaks For Me; Women’s Leadership Project; Working Narratives; Young Voices; Youth Over Guns; Special Education Equity for Kids (CT); Center for Children’s Advocacy (CT); CT Justice Alliance; Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), Arkansas Community Organizations; Baltimore People’s Climate Movement; Baltimore Police Free Schools Coalition; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; California Children’s Trust; Center for Youth & Community Leadership in Education; Clevelanders Against Federal Policing; Collierville Community Justice; CT Students for a Dream; DC Prep PrepNext and ANC 1A07; DeCarcerate Memphis; Disability Rights Oregon; Education Law Center (PA); Education Justice Alliance; End Mass Incarceration Georgia Network; Equality California; Faith in New Jersey; Faith in Texas; Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children; Family Law Practice Clinic, CUNY School of Law; Florida Student Power Network; Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline; Hilton Head for Peace; Just City Memphis; Justice Teams Network; Kentucky Student Voice Team; The Institute for Compassion in Justice (KY); Lehigh Valley Stands Up; Living United for Change in Arizona; Make the Road Nevada; Make the Road New York; March for Our Lives DC; Next Level Vision DC; Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc.; One Pennsylvania – Education Rights Network; Our Revolution Ohio; Pa’lante Restorative Justice; Reclaim Our Schools LA; Rights & Democracy VT and NH; Silver State Equality – Nevada; Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York; Southern Maine Showing Up for Racial Justice; SURJ Ohio; Tenants and Workers United; Uplift MN LLC.

Earlier this year, Murphy authored an op-ed in the Hartford Courant to make the case for reforms to school discipline, which disproportionately impacts Black, Latino and LGBTQ+ students, those from low-income backgrounds, and students with disabilities.