04/13/2009

SPLC Urges Schools to Use Stimulus Money to Reform School Discipline

The Southern Poverty Law Center is encouraging school districts across the country to use federal stimulus money to establish Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) in their schools — an innovative approach to discipline that reduces student misbehavior and improves achievement and attendance.

The SPLC has published information for school officials outlining the benefits of PBS and how it can be established with stimulus funds. The U.S. Department of Education also has suggested that local school districts invest stimulus money in PBS, because it is "aligned with the core goals" of the economic stimulus package and can be sustained.

"By investing a portion of these one-time stimulus funds in approaches like PBS, school districts have an unprecedented opportunity to bring lasting improvements to their schools," said Matthew Cregor, an SPLC staff attorney working on the campaign. "PBS is a perfect way to help keep our students and teachers in safe and productive classrooms."

The SPLC is working with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a coalition of advocates, parent and student organizers, educators and lawyers that promotes alternatives to zero-tolerance disciplinary policies that remove students from class and often lead to dropout.

PBS advocates say the program can save taxpayer money that would otherwise be spent incarcerating vulnerable youths who are pushed out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system for even minor misbehavior — a path known as the "school-to-prison pipeline."

More than 9,000 schools across the country are implementing PBS and saving countless instructional hours otherwise lost to school discipline.

PBS is a research-based approach that fundamentally transforms the school into an environment where good behavior is taught and modeled by everyone from the principal to the custodian. Students are rewarded and praised for good behavior while discipline problems are addressed in a smarter way than under zero-tolerance policies.

Principals, teachers and community members work together to determine the causes of problem behavior and develop school-wide and, when necessary, individualized plans to improve behavior. Office disciplinary referrals are collected and reviewed to determine when, where and why discipline problems are occurring. The end result is a reduction in suspensions, expulsions and dropout rates.

The SPLC is highlighting PBS because it is an approach that can benefit students today and be sustained to help future students.

Congress designated $115 billion of the stimulus funds for education. While the bulk of the funds are intended to avert teacher layoffs, $25 billion is to be used for innovative programs, such as PBS, to improve teaching and learning.

"We understand that the economic stimulus is not distributed with a perfect formula, and some districts will have harder choices to make than others," Cregor said. "We need to make sure school districts have the money to keep teachers in the classroom, but we also must provide the tools and support they need to deliver high-quality instruction to all students."

A variety of funding sources can be used to continue PBS programs after the federal stimulus money is spent, including "Safe and Drug-Free Communities Grants" and "IDEA Personnel Development Grants."

"We can think of no wiser, sustainable investment for these funds than PBS," Cregor said. "The results speak for themselves."

Dignity in Schools

Letter urging the Department of Education to use stimulus funds for Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) PDF