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House committee advances bill that would require districts to get permission to forgo SROs

bratcher
Legislative Research Commission
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Jefferson County Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher.

The House Education Committee moved a bill forward Tuesday that would require the state school safety marshal to sign off on a district’s decision not to hire a police officer for each school campus. 

Jefferson County Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher says his bill, House Bill 63, clarifies the intent of the School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019. Passed in reaction to the deadly shooting at Marshall County High School in 2018, it required districts to assign a school resource officer, or SRO, to each campus “as funds and qualified personnel become available.”

Bratcher brought Tuesday’s proposal after the Jefferson County Board of Education passed a plan for its 155 schools to share 30 school resource officers, or SROs.

“It's a great first step,” Bratcher said of Jefferson County Public Schools' SRO plan. But, he added, the “original intent” of the school safety bill, “was to have an SRO on every school campus.”

The bill would require districts to report to the state when they don’t have enough funding or personnel to put an SRO on each campus and get approval from the state school security marshal. Bratcher said the hope is that the state can later provide the funds. 

Rep. Ed Massey, a Boone County Republican and former school board member, welcomed the proposal. He cited his own college research paper which he said suggested bringing in SROs might help build trust between the police and the community.

“We need, as a state, to step up and fund the SROs in the schools around our state, including Jefferson County,” Massey said. 

Massey and several other members of the committee, said they believed SROs are needed to prevent school shootings, though research shows school resource officers do not prevent such events.

Opponents of the bill, including Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner, pointed out that Marshall County High School had an SRO at the time of its 2018 deadly shooting.

Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds told the committee that schools are in need of mental health practitioners and social workers, not law enforcement. 

“If you are talking about saving lives, this is not the way to do it. And in fact, the data absolutely opposes it. Read a study—there are many out there that will tell you that,” she said.

She pointed to a 2021 study from Hamline University of 133 school shootings. Researchers found that the presence of law enforcement was associated with an increase in casualties, rather than a decrease.

Louisville Urban League Chief Engagement Officer Lyndon Pryor pointed to research that suggests bringing police into schools results in the criminalization of student behaviors, especially for Black students and other students of color.

“Simply put, SROs have been shown to detract from healthy and productive learning environments. They tend to have little-to-no impact on actually reducing violent behavior,” he said.

The bill passed out of committee and heads to the full House for consideration.

Reached for comment, JCPS spokesperson Mark Hebert sent a statement saying, “We appreciate the bill sponsor acknowledging JCPS’ efforts to keep our schools safe. We will continue to follow Kentucky’s school safety laws.”

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.