One of the most important dividing lines in the discussion about the state's budget crisis separates those who think Texas schools need more money and those who think schools just need to make better spending decisions.I've not seen hard data, but based on anecdotal accounts I'd suggest that the growing number and size of school-based police forces likely account for a big chunk of growth among nonteacher school employees in the last decade. Shouldn't they be among the first to get the budget axe? They're the only sizable class of school employees we know for sure they can do without because schools did so for most of their history in Texas and elsewhere. The phenomenon of campus-based police departments is something that's really only arisen en masse in the last 20 or so years in Texas public schools.
Those in the second group have some powerful numbers on their side. In a December report, Comptroller Susan Combs found that per-student spending increased 63 percent over the previous decade. That growth rate was nearly twice as fast as inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, and it points to a Texas school system that isn't starving for cash.
Another statistic in wide circulation these days says Texas school districts employ about as many nonteachers as teachers. This has led many to suggest that, even as lawmakers consider billions of dollars' worth of funding cuts to schools, local education officials can balance the books without shedding teachers.
Attorney Don Dickson once commented on this blog that when he was growing up, his elementary school had a dietician but no cops, while he learned through an experience with an obese 13-year old client that today's schools have cops but no nutritionists. Those flip-flopped priorities explain why Texas schools write thousands of tickets and why JJAEPs (Juvenile Justice Alternative Educational Programs) have mushroomed in size: Once you begin dealing with routine behavior problems through a police apparatus, you create bureaucratic processes that will pretty much grow endlessly until somebody decides to fundamentally change course.
That could happen sooner than later: State Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has suggested eliminating or radically scaling back the amount of ticketing at schools, and if they're not going to be writing tickets, perhaps school police aren't really needed at all? If the state is going to demand that schools reduce their number of employees but want only nonteacher positions eliminated, campus cops seem like they'd be at the top of the list of expenditures that don't directly relate to the schools' core educational mission. Why not cut them, first?