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If Teachers Squashed Bullying, Maybe Schools Wouldn’t Be So Broke

by Liz Dwyer

July 6, 2017

Education and Technology:

Microsoft Learning Tools is software that helps improve reading skills by reducing visual crowding, highlighting words, and reading text aloud, so students can engage with words in a whole new way.

Learn more
Image via Flickr user USAG Livorno PAO

It doesn’t take a viewing of “Revenge of the Nerds” to know that bullying is so common in schools that Hollywood flicks about tweens and teens frequently feature characters that are being harassed. From being called names because of their skin color to being made fun of due to their race, ethnicity, weight, sexual orientation, or religion, kids who are different from their peers often end up being bullied at school.

As we sometimes see in both movies and real life, beyond holding a one-off assembly condemning verbal and physical abuse, teachers and other staff members don’t always do enough to stop the behavior. And sometimes, as we saw this spring with the educator who gave a student with ADHD a “Most Likely to Not Pay Attention” award, the teacher is the person being the bully.

We see that it is worth the investment to do something about bullying.

So if keeping students safe isn’t reason enough to squash harassment, perhaps there’s another motivation financially strapped school districts will be compelled by: cold hard cash.

At least, that’s one of the implications of a new study released last week by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. They found that school districts lose millions of dollars in funding every year because bullied kids are afraid to show up to class.

“We found a strong link between all types of bullying and school absence,” one of the study’s authors, postdoctoral scholar Laura Baams, said in a statement. “Once school districts and boards realize how much funding is lost — especially in those districts that are struggling for funds — we see that it is worth the investment to do something about bullying.”

Schools feel the economic impact of bullying because districts across the nation get funding from their state through a formula called the “Average Daily Attendance.” If a student doesn’t come to school, for whatever reason, the school doesn’t get money for that child for that day.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data on bullying in middle and high schools from the 2011-2013 California Healthy Kids Survey and from the California Department of Education. They found that just over 10% of students said they’d stayed home because they didn’t feel safe at school. That translates to an “estimated 301,000 students missing school because of feeling unsafe and $276 million in lost revenue each year in California public schools.”

Just as racial inequality is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $2 trillion per year, bullying specifically due to racial or ethnic bias costs our schools the most money. The researchers found that California schools lost up to $78 million per year due to kids staying home because they’re being harassed over their race or ethnicity. Schools in California “also lose much as $54 million based on a religion bias, up to $54 million for gender bias, as high as $62 million for bias related to sexual orientation and as much as $49 million for disability-related bias,” according to the release.

Of course, the Golden State isn’t the only place where harassed kids opt out of going to class. It’s estimated that 160,000 K-12 children stay home from school every day nationwide because they’re too scared they’ll be verbally or physically abused.

Professional anti-bullying training and decreasing racism are cheaper than leaving the system as it is.

The financial implications of all those kids skipping class can’t be ignored at a time when most state education budgets haven’t recovered from the Great-Recession-induced financial slash and burn — and more budget cuts are coming at the federal level. So what should schools do?

Well, other recent research shows that racially integrating classrooms is a key to ending bullying. But people keep coming up with new ways to segregate schools, so we probably can’t count on integration tactics like busing or magnet schools to squash harassement in the short term.

"There are clear steps that schools can take to create a safe environment,” said Stephen Russell, professor and chair of human development and family sciences at UT Austin. “Professional anti-bullying training and decreasing racism are not only cheaper than leaving the system as it is, but would also promote an inclusive climate for everyone.”

Essentially, that means if the adults in charge stop being bystanders, kids will show up to class, and there will be more money to educate them. No, it’s not enough to compensate for the billions of dollars that could be cut next year from the proposed federal budget. But healthier, happier kids and a few hundred million more dollars to spend on supplies and field trips sure seems like a win-win.

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