Bullying
June 15, 2013
Can schools pay for new state mandates?

After a run of notorious episodes in which students were subjected to physical or online harassment, lawmakers around the country are implementing new anti-bullying policies aimed at disciplining perpetrators, requiring school officials to report incidents and training teachers in anti-bullying techniques. But advocates worry that funding for the initiatives is inadequate, and some school officials are complaining that the new laws amount to unfunded mandates. Meanwhile, federal funding for anti-bullying initiatives has largely dried up, putting additional pressure on school districts. The Department of Education has awarded $38.8 million in grants to 11 states to address a variety of school problems, including bullying. Some school districts are turning to private funding sources, such as the Highmark Foundation, which is helping a number of Pennsylvania schools implement the nationally recognized Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Wearing anti-bullying shirts, students at Richfield S.T.E.M School in Richfield, Minn., join Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson at a news conference in St. Paul on school bullying on Nov. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune/David Joles)   Wearing anti-bullying shirts, students at Richfield S.T.E.M School in Richfield, Minn., join Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson at a news conference in St. Paul on school bullying on Nov. 23, 2011. A state task force has recommended that lawmakers strengthen the state’s anti-bullying legislation. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune/David Joles)

A series of high-profile suicides by student victims of bullying and cyberbullying, including the 2010 death of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts high school student from Ireland, has sparked a wave of state anti-bullying legislation, lawsuits and policy debates.

All states except Montana have passed laws requiring schools to implement programs to protect students from bullying, including educating them about its effects. Some policies require disciplinary procedures while others mandate that schools track and report every incident. A growing number of states also require schools to employ someone trained in anti-bullying education. Despite widespread attention to the issue, anti-bullying advocates worry that many of the new laws don’t provide adequate funding to implement anti-bullying strategies, particularly those calling for training teachers, counselors or administrators. With state budgets facing huge shortfalls in recent years, lawmakers have been cutting education funding, including for bullying prevention, leading some school districts to resist anti-bullying mandates.

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