It was revealed yesterday that Texas educators are just a wee trigger-happy when it comes to student discipline, removing almost 60 percent of the state's students from the classroom at least once during middle and high school. Minority students are especially likely to get the boot, the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments study found, although that data's been around for years. But white kids? Getting suspended? That, ladies and gentlemen, is some breaking-ass news.
It was the first such study of its size, so it's not even clear whether Texas's suspension rate is higher than other states'. But judging by the sheer shock the numbers caused educators, Texas has to be at least threatening the league lead. And there's one factor that went mostly ignored in yesterday's coverage, a factor often invoked by noted discipline scholar Clifford "Method Man" Smith, PhD:
Dollar dollar bill, y'all.
Texas schools spend less than $9,000 per student, according to the most recent census data. Schools in all but eight states spend more. Why is Texas near the bottom, despite it's allegedly booming economy? Because about half of school funding comes straight from the state coffers, and our state leaders prefer their coffers sicklier than Jonah Hill 2.0.
Broke schools have less money to attract bright, experienced teachers and administrators. Broke schools have less money to teach those teachers how to keep a classroom under control. Broke schools have less money to fill their classrooms and playgrounds with support staff to keep basic kid stuff from escalating into suspension-worthy incidents. And on it goes.
To lend this already-arrived-at conclusion a manufactured air of journalistic credibility, I called a philosophically predictable advocate with an important-sounding title, hoping he would say exactly what I said, but in that cool way they teach at public policy school.
"As we talk about cutting funding for the schools, a lot of times that's going to mean classes that get larger and supplemental programs that get smaller," Richard Kouri, public affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, said, after waiting for me to adjust the tee to just the right height. "All of that has an impact on the number of incidents and how those incidents get handled."
Kouri also pointed out that diminished social services outside of our public schools -- early-childhood development, pre-k programs, child-protective services, etc. -- make kids more likely to act out when they get to middle or high school.
"You have an opinion out there that all of these things originate in the schools and can be fixed in the schools," he said. "No one wants to talk about the other piece of it."
The kids who need those services most are often black and Latino, which might explain why their teachers are chucking them from class so damn often. Also, Kouri said, the poorest schools often have the least experienced teachers, since veterans have an easier time moving to better-paying districts -- yet another reason minority students are disciplined at such a higher rate.
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Lawmakers like Plano state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the chair of the education committee, can keep asking nebulous questions and proposing ultimately empty solutions, as she and Sen. John Whitmire did in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. But as long as they're ignoring the lessons of Dr. Method Man and allowing their fellow lawmakers to slash the state's school budget by the billions, the point-to-the-door method will still be a key weapon in the arsenal of Texas teachers.
Like always, we'd like to include some supplemental material for you Friends of Unfair Park who want more on this important story. Here it is: