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Bullying's Hidden Cost: Schools Lose Millions of Dollars When Kids Stay Home

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When bullied children stay home to avoid hurtful relationships, schools lose tens of millions of dollars each year, a new study says. 

And the numbers are significant: California schools alone lost $276 million in funding when students stayed home out of fear, the authors estimate.

That's because those absences can lower average daily attendance rates, which are used by many states to allocate significant amounts of school funding, says the study, published this week in School Psychology Quarterly.

"Bullying is a big social problem that not only creates an unhealthy climate for individuals but also undermines schools and communities," Stephen Russell, professor and the chair of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a news release. "We are interested in the economics of bullying and how it can affect a whole school system."

The researchers focused on California, using data from the state's 2011-2013 California Healthy Kids Survey and from its education department. The survey responses were from 7th-, 9th- and 11th-grade students from nearly half of the schools across the state.

The study estimates that schools lost about $50 per student for every day they were absent. That adds up to about $276 million in lost revenue each year from 10.4 percent of students who reported skipping school at least one day because they felt unsafe, the study says. About half of students who missed school reported that they "felt unsafe because of being targeted for bias" related to race, gender, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.

"We found a strong link between all types of bullying and school absence," author Laura Baams, a researcher at UT Austin, said in the release. "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."

A Multi-Pronged Approach to School Absences

School absences, and chronic absenteeism in particular, have received a renewed focus in policy debates lately.

That's thanks in part to a new trove of federal data released in 2016 that showed that about 13 percent of all U.S. students—more than 6 million—missed at least 15 days of school in the 2013-14 school year.

It will take a multi-pronged approach to address the problem, advocates say. And that approach should include work to address the effects of poverty, health issues, and school climate concerns like bullying.

Nationwide, the percentage of students who reported "being afraid of attack or harm" at school dropped over the past two decades, declining from 11.8 percent in 1995 to 3.3 percent in 2015, new federal data released in May show. That coincides with a decline in bullying rates.

Bonus: Bullying researchers have said an inconsistent definition of bullying has made it difficult to zero-in on evidence-based solutions.


Further reading on bullying, school attendance:

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