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Dallas ISD wastes $31 million on discipline that doesn't work

Dallas ISD wastes $31 million on discipline that doesn't work

Student in dunce cap
Dunce caps would be a lot cheaper than Dallas ISD's current discipline methods, which totaled $31.3 million in 2011.

And you thought the paddling controversy stung. According to a recent survey by Texas Appleeseed, Dallas ISD spent $31.3 million of taxpayer dollars on exclusionary discipline policies in 2011.

These policies, which include suspension, alternative campuses and referrals to the juvenile justice system, have been proven to increase the risk of drop-outs and failing grades. In short, kicking kids out of the classroom isn't a solution to discipline problems; it's a recipe for decreased student success and fruitless funds. 

When the subject of wasted taxpayer dollars is broached, the Texas Senate listens. The members of the education and criminal justices committees are meeting October 30 to review school discipline policies. 

 According to the survey, kicking kids out of the classroom isn't a solution to discipline problems; it's a recipe for decreased student success. 

The survey characterized DISD as being over reliant on exclusionary discipline and, in many cases, implementing expulsion when it wasn't mandated by the state.

Dallas operates three alternative education campuses, which cost taxpayers $9 million a year. According to data from the survey, half of the district's referrals to these campuses were discretionary.

Dallas ISD also paid $719,194 for juvenile justice services. The state pays full expenses for students who bring weapons to school or commit felonies or assaults on campus. But 62 percent of referrals were optional, which means DISD foots the bill. A similar storyline plays out for the district's suspension rates, with most of the cases occurring because of Code of Conduct violations that do not impact student safety.

Texas Appleseed would like to see districts rely less on exclusionary policies and more on "behavior management programs," which are less expensive and more effective, according to national research. These programs involve counselors and social workers and lower costs because they keep students on campus, thus increasing the daily attendance rate and consequently state funding. 

Out of all 11 districts in the survey, Houston ISD leads the pack in discipline spending with a $38.7 million price tag. Security and monitoring expenses are the biggest cost for Houston and Dallas school districts, which spent $20.6 million and $19.9 million, respectively, in 2011. 

Fort Worth ISD ranked third in the study, with discipline costs totaling $17.4 million, including $10.4 million on monitoring. It may sound admirable  to shell out cash for security equipment and personnel, but an increased police presence may do more harm than good. 

"Mounting research shows that school campuses are — and always have been — safe places and that a large police presence tends to place a high number of students in contact with court systems for low-level misbehavior," the survey says. 

Suddenly, Springtown ISD's proclivity for paddling doesn't sound like the worst discipline policy in our public schools.