Wisconsin Assembly votes to mandate police in high-risk schools

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Schools that experience a high number of crimes would have to hire police officers and station them in their buildings under a Republican-authored bill the state Assembly passed Tuesday.

Under the bill, if a school has more than 100 incidents in a semester, and at least 25 of those result in an arrest, the school must hire an armed school resource officer to work at the school.

The cost of hiring the officer would be partially reimbursed by the state using federal COVID-19 relief money. The state education department said it could not calculate how many schools may qualify.

The measure comes after the state’s two largest districts in Milwaukee and Madison voted in 2020 to remove school resource officers.

The only registered supporter of the measure was the Milwaukee Police Association. Opponents included Milwaukee Public Schools, Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards also raised concerns.

Democrats criticized the bill as a Republican attack on Madison and Milwaukee schools.

Rep. LaKeisha Myers of Milwaukee said her school board should be allowed to set its own rules and accused Republicans of ‘wrapping yourself in fear.’ Rep. Francesca Hong of Madison said increasing violence in schools is a result of Republicans choosing to underfund public education.

Republicans called the bill a common-sense first step toward reducing violence in schools.

‘It’s clear the status quo can’t continue,’ aid Rep. Nik Rettinger, the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor. ‘I worry that if we stay on the current path, more students and faculty will be attacked.’

The Assembly ultimately approved the bill on a 59-36 vote.

The chamber approved another bill Tuesday that would require schools to collect and report information about crimes on school grounds. The GOP-controlled Legislature passed that measure last session, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed it.

Democrats complained that the bill does nothing to stop violence in schools going forward. Republicans countered that parents deserve to know if their children’s schools are failing.

‘I’m not going to solve every problem with this. This is not a school safety bill. This is a school transparency bill,’ said Rep. Cindi Duchow, the bill’s chief Assembly sponsor.

The Assembly passed the bill 61-35.

Both bills go next to the Senate. Approval in that chamber would send the measures on to Evers. Britt Cudaback, the governor’s spokesperson, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bills’ prospects.

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