Illinois House passes measure creating new grant for school psychologists, not armed resource officers

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — A measure creating a new taxpayer-funded grant that directs money to schools for psychologists rather than armed security officers is heading to the Senate.

State Rep. Chris Emanuel Welch, D-Westchester, said he amended his House Bill 4208 to take out some of the language that would have encouraged schools to phase out armed resource officers in favor of mental health professionals.

Welch’s amended measure would create a new grant for schools “that would expand or create restorative justice programs, hire school psychologists, social workers and other mental health and behavioral specialists,” Welch said in floor debate Friday.

State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, said the bill, which is subject to appropriation by the legislature, should have never been brought forward. He said tying up funds in such a way is bad policy.

“Then it’s all going to be part of the budget process and then we’re going to get accused of not being concerned about our students if we don’t fund this program, which really doesn’t need to be in place in the first place,” Breen said.

The state doesn’t have the money it’s already committed to do now, Breen said, adding that he’d rather see resources freed up for law enforcement in schools.

“We need to be supporting our law enforcement personnel,” Breen said. “All of the shootings and things that have been happening in our schools shows very clearly that we need law enforcement personnel in our schools able to protect our children and able to stop these terrible threats from happening.”

Welch said he expects to have his bill amended in the Senate before it comes back to the House. It passed the House with only 64 votes.

State Rep. Juliana Stratton, D-Chicago, said the bill creating a new grant for schools wanting more school psychologists, instead of giving money for armed security, is needed.

“We should be concerned about their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health and any other type of expressions of health that we can identify for young people,” Stratton said.

Stratton and others cite a growing concern of school resource officers being too heavy-handed with students.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinkley, said there’s another way to achieve that goal.

“And that’s adequate training for schools safety officers so that they are more concerned with student support and encouragement rather than arrests that the representative has identified,” Pritchard said.

Senate Bill 2925, which would do what Pritchard suggested, passed the Senate unanimously last week and is now in the House. SB2925 would require new training standards for school resource officers to focus more on developmental issues.

This story was originally published on the Illinois News Network.