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Suspending Students Is Costing America Tens of Billions of Dollars

A new study quantifies why it’s so important for schools to find some other way to manage students who act up.

By Francie Diep


(Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Suspensions cost America an enormous amount — almost $36 billion for the graduating class of 2004, according to a new analysis from researchers at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California–Los Angeles.

In recent years, many teachers and principals have triedto suspend kids less often. They’re turning instead to other fixes, such as peer juries and community service assignments, when middle and high schoolers egregiously break school rules. The new study highlights why those alternatives may be sound policy.

Kids who are suspended even once are more likely to drop out of high school, the researchers found. That was true even when the researchers took into account other characteristics that are often associated with not finishing high school, such as family income and parents’ level of education. Suspensions don’t affect students equally, either: Data from California suggests black kids are almost four times as likely as their white peers to get suspended.

Kids who are suspended even once are more likely to drop out of high school.

Failing to receive a high school diploma can lead to hard consequences not only for the dropouts themselves, but for society altogether. Those without a high school diploma tend to be less healthy, to use welfare; and to earn less, and thus pay less in taxes. To come to their $36 billion figure, the Civil Rights Project researchers took into account those costs over the lifetime of every Class of ’04 student who dropped out, but likely would have stayed in school had they not been suspended.

It’s also costly to educate teachers about alternatives to suspension, the researchers acknowledge. While this study doesn’t calculate an exact figure, considering how much America pays for suspensions, it’s unlikely maintaining the status quo is effective, the researchers write.