Bullying that causes children to stay home from school costs districts hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, a University of Texas study says.
The university says its research, published in School Psychology Quarterly, found that bullying-related absences result in reduced funding for school systems in states that use daily attendance numbers to allocate state.aid. California alone loses an estimated $276 million a year from students avoiding school because they feel unsafe, the study says.
“Bullying is a big social problem that not only creates an unhealthy climate for individuals but also undermines schools and communities,” says Stephen Russell, professor and chair of human development and family sciences at UT Austin. “We are interested in the economics of bullying and how it can affect a whole school system.”
States such as Texas, Illinois and California use a formula known as average daily attendance to allocate certain school funds. Schools that receive funding based on children’s presence rather than based on total enrollment will have lower revenue when children miss school for any reason.
The researchers looked at data from the 2011-2013 California Healthy Kids Survey and information from the state’s Department of Education and analyzed surveys of seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade students from nearly half of the schools in California. They found that 10.4 percent of students reported missing at least one day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. This extrapolates to an estimated 301,000 students missing school because of feeling unsafe and $276 million in lost revenue each year in California public schools.
Biased-based bullying is also costly. Nearly half of the absent students — 45 percent — reported that they missed school and felt unsafe because of being targeted for bias. When Russell and colleagues calculated the lost revenue to California schools each year, it was up to $78 million for bullying because of race/ethnicity bias, as 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. Many children reported they were bullied in more than one of these categories.
“We found a strong link between all types of bullying and school absence,” says author Laura Baams, also of UT Austin. “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.”
Not all students subject to bullying miss school, the researchers noted. About 19 percent of students experienced biased-based bullying, but did not miss school. Still, Russell explains, other effects may occur such as depression, anxiety, poorer academic achievement and health complaints.
“There are clear steps that schools can take to create a safe environment," says Russell. "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.”