Texas Public School Districts Spent $227 Million On Disciplinary Problems, School Security: Study

Officials in Texas spend $227 million annually on disciplinary problems and school security, according to a recent Texas Appleseed survey of 11 major public school districts representing 1 million students.

According to the Texas Tribune, the report comes ahead of a joint meeting of the Senate education and criminal justice committees to address school discipline. It examined spending on expulsions, in-school suspensions, alternative schools and policing, the Associated Press reports.

The schools surveyed, which included the Dallas, San Antonio and Houston Independent School Districts, spent approximately $140 million during the 2010-11 school year on out-of-school suspensions, referrals to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs — which place offending students in a separate classroom or building from the general student body — and discretionary expulsions to Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs, where districts are required to send students for whom DAEP has been ineffective. Students, however, can also be sent to these programs for less serious infractions.

The 11 districts also spent $87 million on security, monitoring services and campus policing, according to the report.

"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," Texas Appleseed’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."

According to the Tribune, the report’s findings suggest districts spend more money on exclusionary programs and see subpar results when compared to alternative discipline techniques aimed at keeping students in their schools while combatting the social and emotional issues that underly most discipline problems.

Barbara Williams, communications officer at Texas Association of School Boards, told the Tribune decisions regarding discipline should be left up to the individual districts.

"We urge lawmakers to provide resources that help districts maintain a high quality education for students in disciplinary settings," she said. "Independent school districts should continue to determine which disciplinary actions work for their students and communities."

Studies have shown that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to be held back or drop out, and are also more likely to enter the juvenile justice system. In March, a survey by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights found that black students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled, and more than 70 percent of students arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement are black or Hispanic.

Texas Appleseed has expressed concern about Texas’ disciplinary methods creating a school-to-prison pipeline for poor and minority students, according to the AP.

Last week, federal civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against Meridian, Miss. and other defendants that accuses city officials of operating a “school-to-prison pipeline” that jails students — most of whom are black — for days at a time for minor infractions, without a probable cause hearing.

Mississippi is certainly not the only place in the country operating such a system, but is the only one to date where local authorities have not been fully cooperative with federal investigators.

Many experts have attributed the school-to-prison pipeline to zero-tolerance policies — a holdover from the war on drugs — that punish all major and minor rule infractions equally, bringing police disproportionately into high-minority schools.

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