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The Shocking Cost of Suspending Kids From High School

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The Short of It

It will blow your mind how much high school suspensions cost this country every year.

The Lowdown

A new report by UCLA's Civil Rights Project is the first of its kind to attempt to quantify how much it costs when kids are suspended for bad behavior in school. And we aren't just talking about mom having to buy a few more bags of Doritos when a kid stays home. Researchers were more interested in the long-term effects of suspension.

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What they found was that in just a single year, 10th-grade suspensions led to 67,000 students, or 16 percent of those studied, eventually dropping out of high school, and that resulted in an estimated econmic cost of $35 billion for the U.S.

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Researchers point to these reasons why kids who drop out of school cost our society money, as reported by NPR:

  • People who don't earn a high school diploma on time are more likely to earn less money, and pay less in taxes.
  • They are also less likely to have health insurance, and therefore less access to prevention, and are more likely to develop poorer health. Eventually they will require more care—with a higher share of the cost paid for by taxpayers.
  • They are more likely to have trouble with the law, which taxpayers subsidize via court and prison costs.
  • They further rely on public assistance at higher rates.

The Upshot

Study co-author Russell Rumberger, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says the good news is, "Schools can do something about it, and they are." After suspension rates soared in the late 90s through 2013, NPR reports they have stayed steady since that time. Today most U.S. high schools boast lower suspension rates, and high graduation rates. This is perhaps due to educators turning to alternative discipline tactics, and being more aware of racial disparities in how students are reprimanded for their actions.

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The study's finding that in-school suspensions are just as bad when it comes to their impact on dropout rates will hopefully encourage administrators to continue to focus on helping students resolve their problems, instead of simply isolating them from their peers. Of course this can be a tall order with kids who repeatedly cause disruptions in the classroom, or resort to violence; suspension may be the only answer in these cases.

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