Students in the class of 2014 who never graduated because they were suspended from school will cost California an estimated $2.7 billion in increased criminal justice costs and lower taxes paid over the course of their lifetimes, according to a new study from two University of California researchers.
The researchers said they hoped putting a financial cost on school discipline practices that send students out of school would mobilize communities to urge their districts to lower suspension rates.
“This puts the price tag on it,” said Russell Rumberger, director of University of California Santa Barbara’s California Dropout Research Project and co-author of the report with Daniel Losen, director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project at the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. “For people who say, ‘I don’t care about kids, jail ’em up or whatever,’ these are fiscal costs. It affects taxes, and your taxes are building more prisons.”
The $2.7 billion includes $809 million in direct taxpayer costs for criminal justice services as well as the reduced revenue that is generated by the lower wages earned by most who don’t hold a high school diploma. The total also includes $1.9 billion in social costs, such as reduced economic productivity and higher health care expenses. On average, a single person without a high school diploma will experience $579,820 in economic losses over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate, the report states.
The impact of school discipline practices on students, staff and communities has been under a state spotlight during the past several years, and as a result of the Obama administration’s “Rethink Discipline” initiative, a federal spotlight as well. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has yet to issue guidance to schools related to school discipline.
“California is a leader in addressing suspensions,” Losen said, noting that alternatives to suspensions, such as restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, have become more commonly used in school districts. The shift has been prompted in part by the development of the new state education accountability system, which includes standardized test scores but will require districts to include other measures, including their suspension rates, in 2017-18. In addition, a district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan
is required to show how a district is addressing high rates of suspension.
As school districts revise their accountability plans, the report recommends that parents and others in local communities use the report’s calculations to take note of the economic impact of school suspensions, and to urge districts to invest in training school staff in alternatives.
The researchers say that reluctance to spend funds on addressing racially disparate suspension rates in some districts “stems in part from a lack of awareness of the local economic impact of suspension from school.”
Rumberger and Losen tracked a cohort of students – the entire California high school class of 2014 – for three years starting in 10th grade, using data from the California Department of Education. Of the 480,000 students they followed, they found that students who were suspended had a 60 percent graduation rate, compared to the 83 percent graduation rate for non-suspended students – a 23 percentage point difference.
To figure out how much of that difference was due to suspensions, Rumberger and Losen looked at key risk factors for not graduating, including the number of failed classes and a low grade point average. They compared students who had those risk factors but had not been suspended with students who had those risk factors and were suspended. The researchers found that suspensions alone accounted for a 6.5 percentage point drop in graduation rates.
“What it tells us is that out of a 23 percentage point difference in graduation rates, roughly a quarter of the difference is due to suspension itself,” Rumberger said. He added in a statement, “It’s tragic; it’s bad economics; and it’s entirely avoidable.”
The researchers estimated the economic impact of the suspensions on the class of 2014 for all districts with more than 100 students. Suspensions in the Los Angeles Unified School District are estimated to result in $148 million in economic losses over the lifetimes of the 10th-grade cohort studied, the report said. The cost of suspensions in the Fresno Unified School District for the class of 2014 is estimated at $56 million; San Diego Unified suspensions of its students in that cohort will cost $38 million. Suspensions in San Francisco Unified and San Juan Unified are expected to cost $13 million each for the class of 2014.
A 1 percentage point drop in suspension rates for the 10th-grade cohort studied would create $180 million in economic savings, the report found. In Los Angeles Unified alone, a 1 percentage point drop would save California $25 million.
“As districts revise their goals and their budget for the next school year, they should understand the tremendous local cost savings that can be reaped locally by lowering suspension rates,” the report states.