The latest report card is in, and Louisiana is failing its children across the board. Louisiana ranks 49th in the nation for overall children’s well-being, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which looks at data in children’s education, economic well-being, health, and community. Louisiana has consistently scored in the bottom 5 of child well-being and in the bottom 3 for education every year since the beginning of data collection. We need to ask what we could do better to support our youth and give them the opportunities they deserve, particularly when it comes to education.
To start, we need to use our resources in more effective ways and give children access to the support and services they need to feel safe and thrive. The way we use funds in schools is critical in Louisiana where one in four children live in poverty and an estimated 47% have experienced trauma. All children need supportive, nurturing, and loving adults who can support their mental, emotional and physical well-being, but children who live in poverty or have experienced trauma also need support from trained professionals who can help them navigate the extra hurdles that keep them from succeeding in school. However, in Louisiana, schools do not meet the standards for student to counselor ratio, and in many schools children don’t have access to a counselor at all. In fact, one in three children in Louisiana attend a school with a police officer but without a nurse, counselor, social worker, or psychologist.
Over the past few decades, schools have continued to increase their funding and use of police in schools or School Resource Officers (SROs), with schools in Louisiana often using general funds and making cuts to positions and other expenses, taking away resources from supportive services. Schools with police presence are not safer, just more punishing. Schools with SROs have higher rates of suspensions, expulsions, and up to 5 times more arrests than schools without them. This is especially true for Black students, who are more than twice as likely to be suspended than white students and 6 times more likely to be arrested.
Children’s safety should be a priority, yet a growing body of research demonstrates that adding police to schools does not make schools safer; In fact, studies show that School Resource Officers increase the rate of crime. In some instances, the Resource Officers commit the crimes themselves, with reports of violence against students. In addition, multiple studies show that when police officers are present in schools, children are more likely to be subjected to restraint, interrogation,and harassment, and have their learning interrupted. Despite the evidence against using police in schools, school districts in Louisiana spend increasing funds on School Resource Officers. Lafayette parish recently tripled the amount they spent in recent years on SROs. Unsurprisingly, according to Louisiana Dept of Education data, the Lafayette school district also has the highest rate in the state of suspensions and expulsions, especially for children who are considered economically disadvantaged.
Continuing to fund police in schools takes away precious resources that could create the safe, loving, supportive communities we want for children instead of the system we have now, which is not serving us. How long will our state leaders settle for last place when it comes to children’s well-being? We can no longer afford to uphold the conditions that criminalize children and put them in harm’s way. We must invest in the services and supports that let children thrive whatever their circumstances and stop funding systems that threaten everyone’s safety. The well-being of Louisiana and its children depends on it.