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Suspensions Have a Multi-Billion-Dollar Cost Nationwide, Study Says

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Dropping the nation's suspension rate by even a small amount could yield a multi-billion-dollar economic impact by helping to lower drop-out rates, leading to savings in public programs and higher wages for affected students, a new analysis finds.

A one percentage point drop in the 16 percent in-school and out-of-school sophomore suspension rate could lead to a fiscal benefit of $691 million as estimated by the study, because of improvements in areas like earnings and taxes for affected students, and it could lead to a social benefit of $2.2 billion because of savings in areas like welfare, criminal justice, and health care spending, says the study, released today by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the University of California Los Angeles.

"If schools knew the real costs associated with suspension, its use might not have become so pervasive," says the analysis, which was co-written by Russell Rumberger of the University of California and Daniel Losen, a UCLA researcher and advocate for cutting back on classroom removals.

Nationwide, the economic impact of 10th-grade suspensions exceeds $35 billion, the authors conclude.

So how did the researchers draw these conclusions? They used a combination of federal data and previous research to estimate:

  1. the likelihood a student will be suspended, in or out of school, in 10th grade;
  2. how much suspensions at that age increase a student's likelihood of dropping out; and
  3. how much it costs, directly and indirectly, when a student drops out of high school.

The national suspension data comes from sophomores surveyed as part of the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002. The data includes survey responses of about 16,000 public and private school students included in the study, who were later resurveyed to determine if they graduated from high school.

To isolate how those suspension rates would affect the likelihood of dropping out, the researchers controlled for other factors that could influence high school completion on their own, factors like parents' educational attainment, family income, and test scores. Without those controls, they estimated that 71 percent of students who had received an in-school or out-of-school suspension in their 10th-grade year later graduated from high school, compared to a rate of 94 percent for students who had not been suspended. Controlling for the other variables, 68 percent of suspended students graduated, compared to 80 percent of students who had not been suspended.

The economic impact estimates relied on analyses from Clive Belfield, an economics professor at Queens College. He estimated that, over the course of a lifetime, every student who drops out leads to $163,000 in lost tax revenue and $364,000 in other social costs, such as health care and criminal justice expenses. For more information about the researchers' methodology, take a look at the whole report here.

Advocates for reworking school discipline policies have previously suggested that classroom removals, such as suspensions, can be the first domino in a string of events that can lead to a student's gradual disengagement from school. But others have suggested that suspensions are sometimes a necessary tool to maintain safety and order in schools.

The researchers conclude that schools should work to collect and analyze discipline data and consider alternatives to classroom removal. Schools may also be able to offset the impact of suspensions by ensuring swift and smooth re-entry for students who've been removed from classrooms and by keeping them up with their academic work while they are out of school.

Do you agree with the report's conclusions?


Further reading on suspensions, drop outs, and school discipline:

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