Essay Contextualizing the Push for More School Resource Officer Funding
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An Essay for the Learning Curve
Montserrat Avila-Acosta, Lucy C. Sorensen
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With shootings becoming more frequent on and near school grounds across the US, members of Congress have proposed bills that would increase funding for school resource officers (SROs), or police officers stationed in school settings. Despite these calls to increase federal funding, there is little understanding of how much money is already being spent on SROs. Without a clearer idea of the existing landscape, it is difficult to understand the significance and potential effects of these policies.

Key Findings

  • The annual expenditures on SRO salaries and benefits are $2.12 billion nationally in 2017 dollars (or $2.62 billion in 2023 dollars), compared with $12 billion for security guards.
  • The estimated expenditures on SROs per student vary greatly across states, with the average expenditure being $46.87 per pupil; state spending ranges from $12.74 to $213.08 per student.
  • Some states simultaneously have some of the highest per student expenditures on SROs and the lowest per student expenditures on other school personnel. Idaho and Texas, for instance, are among the top five spenders per student on SROs, but Idaho is among the bottom five spenders on nurses and school counselors, and Texas is in the bottom five spenders on social workers. Texas is also the top spender on security guards per student.

Implications

These bills proposed in Congress would increase annual expenditures on SROs, and any increase in SRO funding necessarily raises the question of distribution across states. One proposed bill would increase SRO spending by $500 million per year (or $10 per student), and if funds were distributed evenly across students, the increase represents a larger amount than what is currently being spent on social workers per student in some states. But another question that arises with proposals to increase federal funds on SROs is the federal government’s role in existing SRO program funding.

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office in the US Department of Justice currently supports the largest federal SRO grant programs. But one problem with increasing the federal government’s funding role is that the federal government has few official guidelines for SROs. The COPS Office does require SRO training, but there is generally little federal oversight. Before considering the expansion funding, the federal government could provide clearer guidelines regarding SROs in terms of reporting of these personnel in schools, establishing clear selection criteria, strengthening district policies around the use of police, and requiring specialized training.

Given the mixed evidence on the effects of SROs on school safety and the research suggesting negative effects of SROs on student disciplinary outcomes, particularly for Black students and students with disabilities, perhaps a better use of funds would be to ensure adequate and specialized training of currently employed SROs and to collect accurate data on the prevalence and costs of these personnel across the US. Because exposure to police or other security personnel is often higher in low-income and Black- and Latino-serving schools, ensuring transparency and accountability of policing activities is especially important. Substituting investments in SROs with investments in restorative justice or mental health services is a promising option for creating safe school environments and promoting the well-being of school staff and students.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Tags K-12 education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy