Commentary: Fund our schools, not the police
Metro Nashville Schools Board of Education. (Photo: MNPS)
Mayor John Cooper’s budget for fiscal year 2022 includes some important measures to mitigate damage from the pandemic, including increased funding for affordable housing, transit, and emergency management. Mayor Cooper’s budget also brings our tax rate down, to the third-lowest level in Metro Nashville’s history.
We are grateful for specific parts of this budget. As members of Safer Schools Nashville, we are probably most grateful that the proposed budget calls for an additional $81 million for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), the city’s largest-ever investment in education. Fifty million dollars of the proposed $81 million will go towards paying teachers more fairly. Under this proposal, the average Metro teacher will see their salary jump by $6,924. Teachers with eight to 15 years’ experience will receive a $10,880 raise. This pay raise is long overdue for our often overworked and underappreciated teachers, and we are extremely happy to see it. The mayor’s budget also calls for $2.5 million dollars for social and emotional learning (SEL) which will pay for an advocacy center and staff for about half of elementary schools.
Though many of these proposals are great, they do not begin to provide enough resources for our students. MNPS’s aspirational budget requested roughly $7.8 million for social and emotional learning, or roughly three times what the current budget offers. This amount would’ve funded more than one advocacy center and staff, including specialists and restorative practices assistants—enough to meet the needs for most elementary, middle, and high school students. Additionally, MNPS’s aspirational budget called for $5 million to improve the school-to-counselor ratio. This was nowhere to be found in the Mayor’s proposed budget. How is this fully funding MNPS?
The Metro Nashville Police Department, on the other hand, is overfunded and receiving an $11.5 million budget increase. Among other things, this funding increase will help pay for 48 new police officers for the new Southeast police precinct. This proposal is utterly perplexing given that MNPD, as of writing, has 94 unfilled positions that are already funded. The second most logical action would’ve been to keep the same budget as last year. Of course, it would have been most logical to cut their budget, given those 94 unfilled positions.
The Mayor has committed to reimagining policing. In our eyes, increased police spending is not reimagining anything. To provide fully-funded resources—affordable housing, transportation and education, for instance—we need to actually re-examine how the government chooses to allocate our taxpayer dollars. There is no good reason for us to spend more of it on cops and jails than on affordable housing, social services, public libraries, tax relief, and public health combined. As shown in the 2021 Nashville People’s Budget Report, “out of every $100 in the General Fund, Nashville spends $36 on cops and cages, but only $1 on affordable housing and $0.66 on social services.” While we are relieved that there is increased funding in this new budget for our schools in particular, this is still not enough to fully fund SEL or provide needed resources for students.
Yet, our schools do not meet the recommended ratios for professional staff like nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers.
Instead of allocating taxpayer money to hire 48 new officers, why don’t we invest in meeting these recommended ratios? Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students, students with disabilities, and low-income students are disproportionately disciplined relative to their white counterparts. Why don’t we invest in restorative justice programs that can eliminate those disparities? Instead of investing in policing students on a day-to-day basis, why don’t we allocate the money currently spent on School Resource Officers (roughly $9 million) and fully fund SEL, additional professional staff, and mental health services? Why don’t we fully invest in public transportation or help people pay for their property? Why don’t we fund Gideon’s Army Violence interrupters, who have been directly requested by the community they serve?
We want more, because we know the city can afford it. We want fully-funded social emotional learning, not massive police expenditure. We want robust care, not cops.
As people of this city, we ask and we demand that the Metro Council listen to us, and deprioritize the police in favor of the services that make us safe.
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