CINCINNATI — Ohio has received more than $4 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to go toward education, and a recent report from The Sentencing Project spotlights how the state can use those funds to prevent what it calls the school-to-prison pipeline.
More than 60% of schools in the U.S. have a school resource officer, despite evidence their presence increases the number of students arrested at school and exacerbates racial disparities within the building.
In Ohio, the Young Activists Coalition is working to have school resource officers removed from Cincinnati Public Schools.
Bella Gordo, president of the Coalition, said she would like to see the district move toward a system of restorative justice.
"What we want to see in schools is a system that doesn't just punish the offender, but makes sure that the offender and the victim work together with someone who is trained in it, like an administrator or a teacher," Gordo explained. "All work together to come to an understanding and can heal the harm that was caused."
Gordo added she hopes the school hires more counselors to help students experiencing mental-health concerns, and also eliminate suspensions and expulsions. About 60% of Cincinnati Public School students are Black, but make up 80% of student discipline cases, according to the group.
Nate Balis, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the infusion of American Rescue Plan dollars to states such as Ohio presents a moment to invest in community-based programs that address a variety of student needs that can affect behavior.
"There's opportunities for funding that have never been there before, where we can support young people and their families when we're identifying that need," Balis asserted. "Supporting them through tutoring and mentoring, or from community programs that may not exist in those districts right now."
In Summit County, which includes the city of Akron, a "responder" program brings case managers from the county's juvenile court to work with young people experiencing behavioral issues. According to the report, students who complete the program are referred back to court less than half as much as students who don't finish the program.