Curbing the School-to-Prison Pipeline

On Wednesday at the National Press Club, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered a speech that called for reducing state and local correctional expenditures in order to increase teacher salaries in high-poverty schools. Throughout the speech, Secretary Duncan discussed the inseparable link between education and incarceration and reminded the audience that more than two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts.

Shortly after, the U.S. Department of Education released a state-by-state breakdown of annual correctional expenditures, teacher salaries in high-poverty schools, and the estimated impact of reallocating 21 percent of funding for correctional facilitations towards teacher salaries. By reinvesting these funds, states could increase teacher salaries in high-poverty schools by $15 billion annually, which could help school districts recruit and retain highly qualified teachers in the highest-need schools.

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at this week’s National Press Club event. Photo by David Chodak.

The school-to-prison pipeline is an alarming trend that disproportionately affects low-income and minority students as well as students with disabilities. According to data released in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, black students are suspended and expelled from school three times as often as white students. Additionally, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities. When students are suspended or expelled, they miss important academic lessons and support, which decreases their chances of graduating high school and increases the likelihood that they will end up in prison.

In 2011, The U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice established the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (SSDI) to help school districts revise discipline policies and implement community-based reforms that provide students with the guidance needed to overcome social and emotional obstacles. In July of this year, the White House hosted a School Discipline and Supportive School Climate Summit that brought superintendents, principals, teachers, and advocacy organizations from throughout the country together to highlight best practices from the SSDI project while identifying areas of growth.

In May, NASSP released a position statement on school discipline that called for the reduction of suspensions, expulsions, and other punishments that remove students from instruction. The statement calls for the increase of funding for school counselors, social workers, and psychologists in order to help schools provide school-based interventions. In addition, NASSP recommends the implementation of evidence-based interventions, which include Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), social and emotional learning, peer juries, restorative justice processes, diversion, mentoring, mental health counseling, restitution, and community service programs.

NASSP will continue to follow this issue and will keep you informed here on the School of Thought blog.

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