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Opportunity Denied: Let’s End Expulsions Across Early Learning Settings

May 4, 2017

Suspension and expulsion of children from early learning settings has been a subject of intense focus recently. It is indeed a topic worthy of discussion – and in need of sensible solutions. As Walter Gilliam’s seminal research on the topic notes, the rate of preschool children being expelled nationally is triple that of children in K-12. In addition, stark racial and gender disparities persist in expulsion rates. According to the US Department of Education 2014 Civil Rights Data Collection, “Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension” and “Boys represent 79% of preschool children suspended once and 82% of preschool children suspended multiple times, although boys represent 54% of preschool enrollment.” Clearly, state policies on early learning suspension and expulsion either don’t exist or are insufficient. More thoughtful policies – ones that reflect an understanding of expulsion as a symptom of a set of problems related to quality, equity, and adequate supports – are needed.

Heeding the Call

In April 2017, The BUILD Initiative brought nine states together for an Expulsion Prevention Think Tank to discuss the complex reasons why expulsion happens in the early years and the multi-pronged state approach required to reduce and prevent it. The meeting took place in Ohio, a state whose early childhood leaders have been thoughtful about how to address this problem. Leaders there invited BUILD to host the Think Tank as part of Ohio’s conference on early childhood mental health consultation, with the express purpose of having a cross-state discussion on expulsion prevention. The energy and excitement before and during the meeting reflected the significant public investment Governor Kasich and the Ohio State Legislature have made in the early childhood mental health system. The conference was filled to capacity, with 350 Ohio registrants in addition to the 20 leaders from other states that BUILD brought. States contributed to a lively Think Tank discussion on their different strategies and approaches, what’s working or not, how to effectively address the disparities, barriers to implementing necessary supports, financing ideas, and states’ differing levels of engagement in the topic to date.

Toward a Solution

The cross-state work at the Ohio meeting held many implications for state policy. It also confirmed the need to support analyses about what should be included in a state-level strategy to build quality, equity, and capacity in early learning settings and reduce expulsions. For such a strategy to work:

State leaders must recognize that banning expulsions won’t necessarily solve the problem—they need to look at each aspect of their state early childhood system and identify the most important factors contributing to expulsions and identify the strategies, supports, and resources needed to tackle them.

States need to adopt multi-faceted policy approaches that build on their strengths and develop an effective continuum of supports for programs, providers, families, and children.

Policy options must promote young children’s social-emotional development and advance “trauma-informed” care and education strategies – while also reflecting Gilliam’s thinking: “Expulsion is not a child behavior. It’s an adult decision.”  Programs must be supported in gaining deeper knowledge about child development and changing their practices.

Next Steps

The meeting and Think Tank have set the stage for BUILD’s future cross-state work on the issue of expulsion prevention. The conversation will continue at the 2017 QRIS National Meeting in June, where this topic will be further explored in a pre-conference session entitled, Reducing Expulsion: The Intersection of Leadership, Policy, QRIS and Supports for Programs and Families. Look for a BUILD blog series on this vital issue after the QRIS meeting. Let us know if you want to be part of our community of state leaders working on this critical issue.

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