September 2012 Bar Bulletin
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September 2012 Bar Bulletin

Building a Stronger State Economy Through Inclusive Education

By Camille Zhou


The Washington economy is finally on the rise after years of economic downturn and the state is in the process of developing more high-level sophisticated jobs. However, Washington schools are limiting access to education for the next generation's workforce through the uneven imposition of exclusionary disciplinary policies such as suspensions and indefinite expulsions. To ensure that we have a strong workforce ready to fill these jobs, we must improve access to education in Washington schools.

Every year, more than 50,000 children are suspended or expelled from Washington schools,1 and such exclusions have long-term implications that reach far beyond the classroom. Research shows that students who have been excluded are disengaged academically and emotionally from school, more likely to drop out of school and more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

Long-term consequences include the lower earning capacities of these students when they enter the job market and the higher likelihood that they will require public assistance during their lifetimes. In other words, during a time when global competition for jobs is tighter than it's ever been, Washington is employing a disciplinary practice that erodes the quality of our home-grown workforce and drains money from the public coffers.

The potential benefits of reducing school exclusions could be enormous. Research indicates that graduating from high school increases earning potential. Yet, the estimated, on-time graduation rate of the class of 2010 in Washington was 73.5%.2 Approximately 29,000 students dropped out3 and several studies suggest that school exclusions were partly to blame.

If just 1,000 of those dropouts had graduated, they likely would have earned $14 million in additional income per year.4 Over the course of a lifetime, the additional earnings for such a larger graduating class would likely pour more than $4.8 billion into the state economy.5

There also is a substantial public safety interest in reducing or eliminating school exclusions. According to a 2008 Washington Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) study, as many as two-thirds of juvenile offenders at high risk of reoffending have been suspended or expelled at least once; 30% of low-risk juvenile offenders and 50% of moderate-risk juvenile offenders were suspended, expelled or not enrolled in school.6

Instead of excluding kids, teachers and administrators need more and better resources to ensure that kids stay in school, especially when educating children costs so much less than locking them up; Washington spends an average of $9,324 per student per year on K-12 education, as opposed to $30,168 per year per inmate.7

If Washington allocated more resources to retaining students in schools and ensuring that students receive a proper education while on long-term suspension or expulsion, then not only the student, but also the state economy and labor force, would benefit from this practice.

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