The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that a survey of 11 Texas districts that serve a quarter of the students in the state have spent $227 million on student discipline in just one year. Texas Appleseed, the group that collected and analyzed the data, has released its findings in time for the Texas Senate hearing on how school districts around the state handle misbehaving and troublesome students.
The report is only the latest that has attracted attention from Texas fiscal conservatives who are complaining about the way public school districts are misusing taxpayer money. The numbers are also drawing scrutiny in light of a recent lawsuit, filed by districts educating 75% of the state's student population, that accuses the Texas government of chronically underfunding the state's education system.
Texas Appleseed compiled information on a broad range of schools, from urban inner-city districts that have a reputation for frequent disciplinary problems, to suburban and rural schools that bear no such reputation. It analyzed the methods employed by each type of school district to correct and punish student behavior, especially rates of expulsion and in-school suspensions. In some cases, the group criticized approaches for creating "a school-to-prison pipeline," especially when it comes to poor and minority students.
"We recognize that many Texas school districts are struggling as a result of the $5.4 billion cut in state funding for public education approved last year to help address a state budget shortfall," the group's Deputy Director Deborah Fowler said. "We are releasing this report, not to point a finger at spending in the surveyed school districts, but to open a dialogue with schools about different approaches to student discipline that are more effective and less costly to implement."
More than 60% of the money spent enforcing discipline during the 2010-11 academic year went to enforcing out-of-school suspensions, discretionary expulsions and student referrals to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs. The report found that students expelled by their schools are usually placed in the district's Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs, with an additional $87 million spent on various forms of campus policing, including monitoring and hiring security.
Appleseed called this spending into question in light of the fact that the cost effectiveness of these methods of student discipline is far from certain. The group recommended that educators look into approaches that might prove to be less expensive yet equally, or even more, effective.
The Texas Senate Education and Criminal Justice Committees are meeting jointly Tuesday to conduct a comprehensive review of school disciplinary practices that will include the disproportionate treatment of some groups of children and how often they are referred to law enforcement for criminal prosecution.