On June 2nd, the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project released “The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and Its Disparate Impact,” a study focused on suspensions, school dropouts, and their consequent costs. Research has shown that the risk for dropping out increases when a student is suspended. These dropouts have an oft-overlooked financial and social impact due to lost wages, higher crime rates, greater demand for welfare, and poor public health.
The study outlines previously performed research to show the connection of suspensions to dropout rates and the financial cost of an increase in school dropouts, combining the work of three researchers to estimate the impact of school exclusion nationwide. Russell Rumberger presented an analysis of the Educational Longitudinal Study in which 16,252 high school sophomores were surveyed first in 2002, again in 2004, 2006, and 2012. The students were filtered using demographic data, family information, and school performance. Robert Balfanz used the Florida state data system, focusing on 181,897 freshmen followed from 2000 to 2008 to evaluate the number of in and out of school suspensions and high school graduation rates, factoring in demographic and performance variables. Clive Belfield examined the fiscal and social costs of dropouts in Florida and California. To assess the financial impact, economic outcomes were compared for high school dropouts and graduates, age 18 to 65, in earnings, crime, health, and welfare.
According to the report, suspension rates have been rising since early 1970s, especially for students of color. A review of suspension rates by racial group shows a wide discrepancy between the percentage of suspended black and Hispanic students and that of white students. Between 2000 and 2001, there were approximately 3.5 million high school sophomores in the United States. 16 percent of tenth graders reported having received a suspension in or out of school within their first semester. Applying this percentage to the total number of tenth graders nationwide, approximately 564,457 students were suspended, which results in a 12 percent increase of dropouts, or 67,735 students. Each dropout is estimated to cost the country $163,340 fiscally, with a social impact of about $527,695 per student.
The study’s findings show that on a national scale, there is a 23 percent decrease in graduation rates between students who have experienced a suspension and those who haven’t. Economically, rising dropout rates and lower graduation numbers are estimated as costing the United States $11 billion in fiscal losses and $35.7 billion in social costs. Conversely, when the suspension rate is reduced, leading to fewer dropouts, the financial impact lessens. A 1 percent decrease in school suspensions was estimated to benefit the economy by $691 million fiscally and $2.2 billion socially. Reducing the suspension rate by half was expected to yield $5.5 billion fiscally and $17.8 billion in social benefits. The study also breaks down specific results from California and Florida, and recognizes its research’s limits, as the report only looks at 9th and 10th grade data from two states. The study did not evaluate data from suspensions in earlier grades and its estimates were based on students graduating from high school in 2004, not accounting for the recent declines in suspension rates in some states.
The UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies recommends that the federal and state governments use this data to craft and apply evaluation and oversight plans that factor in suspension rates when gauging school performance. One goal of the report is to direct resources towards more effective disciplinary policies and practices in schools to reduce the frequency of suspensions and risk for student dropout. Further, the study advocates for the review of data and research provided on costs to states and the country as a whole.
Jessalyn Schwartz is with the ABA Children and the Law Advisory Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts.