Too Many High School Suspensions Cost California Billions

A new report says the state overuses suspensions for high schoolers, leading to more dropouts. Photo Credit: Darnok/Morguefile

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California could save billions of dollars by reducing the number of high school suspensions and favoring rehabilitation over punishment, according to a new study by the California Dropout Research Project.

Researchers followed more than 100 randomly chosen 10th graders from across the state for three years, and found that suspension reduced the chances of graduation by almost 7 percent.

What’s more, lead author Russell Rumberger, professor emeritus at UC Santa Barbara, calculates that each dropout costs society almost $570,000 over a lifetime.

“They’re less likely to get a job, and if they do they have lower earnings over their entire lifetime,” he points out. “They’re also more likely to engage in criminal activities, which has a cost to taxpayers and to private citizens. They typically require more public health assistance, and finally they’re more likely to be on welfare.”

The report suggests that districts work on the root cause of the bad behavior rather than simply meting out punishment. It praises districts such as the Los Angeles Unified School District that fund restorative justice programs and use positive behavioral intervention and supports.

Rumsberger says California is moving forward – recently including suspension rates in districts’ annual evaluations.

“Schools and districts are now going to be formally accountable for their suspension rates, so we think it’s going to give incentives for places to reduce their suspension rates,” he states.

The report endorses programs that work to address some of the factors that lead to bad behavior in school, including stresses at home, frustration over academic failure and a feeling of being disconnected from the school community.