This post also appears on the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Speaking Freely Blog.
Yesterday, members of the Legislature unveiled a proposal to permit school districts to levy property taxes specifically for the purpose of funding school safety, such as school police officers (School Resource Officers, or SROs) or security and screening.
As we’ve earlier discussed, Texas doesn’t have a revenue problem (see here) so attempts to create new revenue streams—whatever their purpose may be—should be viewed with some skepticism. Preventing new revenue is even more important when those new revenue streams are unnecessary and duplicative of existing resources.
Instead of placing an even higher burden on the backs of Texas property owners, Texas should focus on creating safe schools where existing SROs can do their intended jobs of keeping schools safe from outside threats. Today, unfortunately, SROs are far more often required to act as school disciplinarians rather than school protectors.
This is because Texas schools far too often rely on Class C misdemeanor tickets and referrals to the juvenile justice system to effectuate school discipline for minor misbehavior. SROs are usually tasked with issuing these misdemeanor tickets, as well as transporting youth referred to the justice system to court or to the local juvenile probation office. While in a minority of cases such actions may be appropriate, when the underlying behavior consists of ordinary school misbehavior, the effect instead is to distract SROs, leave schools less safe, and do little to curb misbehavior.
Instead, schools should reform their school discipline policies to permit more in-school correction and more family-focused disciplinary policies. The Foundation has researched school discipline policies, and we found that tiered approaches that permit for alternative school discipline measures prior to involving the justice system can actually decrease school discipline issues and keep schools safer.
In addition, SROs that serve in the schools that have implemented these proposals report they are able to stay on school grounds and protect it from external threats, and also have a better relationship with students, making students more likely to report threats to the SROs. And, as added bonus, schools implementing tiered approaches saw significant increases in their graduation rates.
Rather than hiking taxes on Texans, the Legislature should focus on implementing policies that allow the SROs and school safety measures we already have today to function far more effectively. This approach would make the creation of yet another taxing authority unnecessary, while keeping schools far safer.