Arizona Latest State Taking Steps To End Preschool Expulsions

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 12:25pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 12:29pm

An Arizona bill is the latest in a nationwide push to limit or ban preschool expulsions, which is a surprisingly common practice.

Kids ages 3 to 5 years old are expelled from preschools at a rate three times higher than K-12 combined, according to a Yale University study.

In the past two years, 22 states have enacted legislation officially limiting preschool expulsions or suspensions. A proposed Arizona house bill would limit expulsions and suspensions in any public or charter schools for preschoolers, kindergartners, first- or second-graders.

“But one of the concerns I have in states that just ban but don’t give teachers anything else to do instead is that you’re just placing a very large burden on the teachers,” Walter Gilliam, a Yale professor who studies childhood psychology and psychiatry, said.

“These teachers need support,” Gilliam said. “If they’re kicking babies out of preschool than these teachers are crying out that they need help.”

Many programs in Arizona are already limited in their ability to expel students.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security provides block grants to early childhood education programs in Arizona. Their policy states, “suspensions and expulsions are detrimental for children and families, ineffective in addressing child difficulties and are, in fact, counterproductive to the goal of preparing children to succeed in school.”

The policy goes on to say that a program should do “everything they can,” to avoid forcing a child out of a program, but stops short of disciplining a program if they do expel a student.

Arizona Head Start, which provided services to 22,440 low-income children in 2016, is prohibited from expelling a student due to that child’s behavior.

Experts agree that this is a step in the right direction, but many are pushing for complete bans.

“What the research tells us is that being expelled or even suspended at an early age — those kids are as much as ten times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and hold negative school attitudes in general,” said Claire Lerner, senior parenting advisor at Zero to Three.

In her decades of work focused on early childhood behavior and development in schools, she said expulsions and suspensions are counterproductive.

“It reduces the chances of young children with special needs will be identified which is really really critical because there's so much research that shows identifying challenges early can have much greater positive impact for kids way into adulthood,” she said.

But consulting time from experts like Lerner is expensive, as is providing adequate staff and training to address children who need more attention or specialists.

The Arizona House bill  does not provide any additional funding for early childhood education and childcare programs, but does offer some guidelines for positively addressing negative behavior.