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SPPS passes resolution, will no longer invest in companies that operate private prisons

The district is taking an unprecedented stance in hopes of ending the cycle of incarceration.

ST PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution saying the district "shall not invest in companies or funds that invest in companies that directly operate private prison facilities."

Director Chauntyll Allen, who serves as the board's clerk, initiated the resolution.

"I had found out actually from the Congressional Black Caucus that a lot of teachers' pensions were invested in privatized prisons and this was across the nation," Allen said. 

A Central High School graduate, Allen says she researched whether SPPS teacher pensions were investing in privatized prisons.

"I did find that the company was directly linked to our pension plan – but not since I've been on the board," Allen said. "St. Paul Public Schools has not invested in privatized prisons since at least 2019."

She says she also found out SPPS was no longer investing in a company that sells furniture made by people who are incarcerated to school districts.

Still, she said the district "needed to pass a resolution or policy that prevented it in the future."

Tuesday last week, the board did just that. The resolution points out that most St. Paul students are people of color and that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated in the U.S. 

But it's not just investments fueling the school-to-prison pipeline nationwide, Allen says.

"[School Resource Officers] were a huge part of starting the criminalization process of young Black and brown students," she said.

SROs were first brought to St. Paul Public Schools in the early 1980s, starting with two SROs at Central High School, according to the district.

"There were assault charges," Allen said. "There was sometimes destruction of property charges if something got broke in the midst of [a] fight… punitive consequences to students that would lead to them getting charges in high school."

In June 2020, SPPS severed its contract with St. Paul police.

"Eliminating the SROs was definitely a huge piece of ending the school-to-prison pipeline in St. Paul," Allen said. "I think passing this resolution was another huge piece."

At the same meeting, the board adopted a resolution "mandating the divestment of and preventing further investment in fossil fuels."

The Board also approved allowing public comment to be part of every regular board meeting. That will go into effect at January's regular meeting.

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