Black students are far more likely to receive disciplinary action than their white counterparts, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued Wednesday.
The issuance of the investigative report comes at a time when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration are examining whether steps taken by the Obama Administration to reduce the disparity should be pared back or eliminated.
According to the study, black students in public schools receive approximately 39 percent of in-school or out-of-school suspensions, though they only make up 15.5 percent of all students.
The study also showed a comparatively higher amount of suspensions for students with disabilities.
GAO investigators examined disciplinary statistics from 95,000 schools, used information from the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection, visited schools in a number of states and interviewed administrators.
A difference between this report and earlier investigations into discipline disparity is the revelation that the disparities exist in all types of public schools, including those in which poverty is not a major factor.
The GAO conducted the study because research shows that students who spend a disproportionate amount of time out of the classroom have a far greater chance of failing, dropping out, ending up in what has been called the “school-to-prison” pipeline and making far less money than their peers.
The cost to society that can be traced back to the amount of time the students spend out of the classroom includes less tax revenue from the students when they become adults and covering the costs of incarceration, according to Jacqueline N. Norwicki, the investigator who conducted the study.
Under the Obama Administration guidelines, school districts that did not reduce the disparity in suspensions were subject to a reduction in federal funding. Critics claimed the regulations caused problems for teachers in being able to keep discipline in their classrooms.
The GAO study did not indicate that was the case. Norwicki told NPR teachers were supportive of taking steps that included spending more money and putting more effort into school counseling and trying alternative forms of discipline aimed at keeping the children in the classroom.
“We did not hear anything about teachers feeling less safe when they were using practices aimed at correcting inappropriate behavior in a non-exclusionary way.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was critical of the Obama Administration regulations, noting in a letter to DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that school administrators who were concerned about losing federal dollars may have been encouraged to steer their efforts toward underreporting or not dealing with disciplinary incidents.
The Hill reports Rubio suggested that the guidelines may have caused systematic failures that led to the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.