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Illinois bill would give funding to schools that reduce 'reliance on law enforcement

Illinois HB 4208 would reward schools that decrease law enforcement presence and increase mental health support staff. (Ringo Chiu/AFP/Getty Images)

The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would incentivize schools to replace armed law enforcement with mental health professionals, The Associated Press reported.

House Bill 4208, which passed the Democrat-controlled House 64-25, is an alternative approach to making schools safer in the aftermath of the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

What's in the bill?

The bill would establish a grant program under the Safe Schools and Healthy Learning Environments Program by "reducing the reliance on law enforcement to address school disciplinary matters and implement alternative strategies that will better address the full range of students' intellectual, social, emotional, physical, psychological, and moral developmental needs."

In order to receive the grant, districts have to develop plans to achieve that goal, which includes the hiring of "justice practitioners, school psychologists, social workers, and other mental and behavioral health specialists."

The State Board of Education would consider the following criteria when considering awarding funds:

  • Arrest rates over the previous three years (number of arrests divided by number of students)
  • Ratio of school-based law enforcement personnel to students over the previous three years
  • Degree to which the proposal articulates a plan to limit school-based arrests and over-reliance on law enforcement

Schools with higher arrest rates or a higher ratio of law enforcement to students will be targeted with higher priority.

Grant funds cannot be used to increase the use of law enforcement or armed security, but the bill was amended to remove language withholding funding from schools that hired armed officers, due to police opposition.

This writer's perspective

This bill represents an interesting wrinkle in the debate about school safety and how to prevent school shootings. Many people acknowledge that mental health is a significant contributing factor to incidents of mass murder, and this bill addresses that.

At the same time, the bill is attempting to plug the "school-to-prison pipeline," which describes an environment in which students with behavioral issues are too often and too quickly processed into the criminal justice system rather than being subjected to less damaging interventions.

However, by tying the addition of mental health resources to the reduction of armed security to protect students in the event of a dangerous situation, this bill has unnecessarily created opposition from law enforcement and from those in favor of hardening school security.

Better treatment and support for those struggling with mental health issues does not have to come at the expense of school security.

(H/T: The Hill)

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