Misuse of Medicaid Reinvestment Funds inconsistent with state law, detracts from essential programs and support services.

MONTPELIER, Vt. – In a letter sent to the Agency of Education (AOE) today, the ACLU and the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid are calling for an end to funding school police with Medicaid reimbursements. With assistance from the Police Out of Schools Coalition and Neighbors for a Safer St. Albans, the groups recently learned that AOE has allowed at least two Vermont school systems – Maple Run Unified School District in St. Albans and North Country Supervisory Union – to use Medicaid funds to pay for school cops, an apparent violation of state law. 

The organizations note that neither the federal government nor the Vermont General Assembly ever contemplated using Medicaid to subsidize police in schools, a practice that runs counter to Medicaid’s purpose of providing medical assistance, rehabilitation, and other services to families, including students with disabilities, and Vermont’s policy of directing the funds to support children with disabilities and students’ academic achievement.   

The letter states, “There is no link between the presence of police in schools and programs designed to support students with disabilities or student achievement in accordance with education standards. Moreover, there is no conclusive evidence that police in schools increase student safety. On the contrary, studies show that police in schools make students feel less safe, more anxious, have a negative impact on educational achievement, and are associated with high rates of exclusionary discipline and in-school arrest.”

ACLU of Vermont Senior Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “The misuse of Medicaid dollars to subsidize cops in schools is unlawful and unacceptable, especially given the complex needs of Vermont’s students and the many documented harms that result from overpolicing our youth. These resources should be used to provide critical services – school psychologists, mental health counselors, and social workers – to meet students’ varied needs in an equitable and supportive manner. Schools that make these meaningful investments see higher attendance, performance, and graduation rates, fewer suspensions, and improved safety. For the sake of our children, we must ensure our funding decisions are aligned with our values.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), Vermont schools have more security personnel than school psychologists. A CRDC survey from the same year showed approximately 22,000 Vermont students report being in a school with police, but without a psychologist, nurse, social worker, and/or counselor.

Additionally, the presence of police in school results in Black students and students with disabilities being disproportionately arrested and referred to law enforcement.  The CRDC showed that Vermont’s Black students were arrested or referred to law enforcement at a rate seven times what would be expected based on their population. Students with disabilities were three times more likely to be arrested or referred to police. 

Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney Marilyn A. Mahusky: “When in schools, police do what they are trained to do – they are not psychologists, mental health or substance abuse counselors, social workers, para-educators, or other support personnel.  Vermont schools should be encouraged to use Medicaid funds in accordance with the statute to support and improve student achievement, not to subsidize policing.”

The organizations are calling on AOE to comply with the requirements of Title 16, revoke any existing authorization to use Medicaid dollars to fund policing, and remind all schools receiving Medicaid funding that the funds cannot be used for policing.

A copy of the letter is available here and also below.