Cops vs. counselors: Do NJ schools need to rebalance spending?
TRENTON — A state lawmaker is worried that districts might be spending too much money on security guards and school police officers and not enough on mental health professionals.
State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said the state should examine whether schools “are providing the tools to help [students] get through these challenges or whether or not we’re just trying to be reactionary, which is where we have an abundance of school resource officers.”
He said security officers perform a valuable role in our schools, “but it should not be at the expense of making sure that we mental health services and the availability of mental health professionals for our children when they need it.”
Singleton has proposed to require school districts to publicly report the number of mental health professionals and security personnel employed by the district each year.
The proposal comes amid a national discussion on the role of law enforcement in communities and whether more funding and responsibilities should be shifted to social service professionals.
He said the discussions and unrest concerning racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic have added extra layers of worry onto children. He said having “the requisite number of good mental health services and mental health professionals there in the schools to help our students, I think will go a long way to making for a better educational experience.”
He noted that there are schools with police officers in their buildings but no counselors or other mental health professionals
“That’s a problem, that’s a challenge," he said. "Our children are going through difficult times right now when they’re in school. When they get back into school full time we want to make sure we provide them with all the resources necessary.”
School districts are now required to submit information to the state Department of Education for categories like academic achievement, student discipline and district spending. Singleton's measure would mandate reporting about how many school psychologists, guidance counselors, socials workers and student assistance coordinators there are, as well as school security personnel.
He said this will raise awareness about the issue.
The measure S2811 had been approved by the Senate Education Committee and now awaits action by the Senate.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com