Suspending Students Costs the Country $35 Billion Every Year

It is becoming increasingly clear that traditional methods of disciplining delinquent children and students is not only outmoded and, in many cases, arguably ineffective but destructive. A groundbreaking study has provided the first concrete look at the fiscal and social costs that come with one particular form of discipline: suspensions.

Across the country, $11 billion is spent every year directly on suspending students. However, according to findings by the University of California’s Civil Rights Project, the social cost — that is, the ripple effect that results from even a few days of suspension — is dramatically larger.

The study estimates that cumulatively, $35 billion is thrown to the wind yearly to discipline students with suspensions.

At present, 16 percent of U.S. students face suspension every year. UCLA researchers looked at the practice in depth in California and Florida. In California, tenth graders were examined, while ninth graders were eyed in Florida; both were used, in conjunction with prior national studies, to make conservative estimates for the country as a whole.

This is important to note because this means data was not tallied for suspensions prior to the ninth grade — meaning the $35 billion estimate is likely to be significantly lower than the reality.

Why is disciplining ill-behaved students via suspension so costly? Surely, at such expense, there must be some benefits, right? Hardly.

Past research, further reinforced by the new UCLA study, shows a strong causal link between suspension and drop out rates. As many as 67,000 drop outs across the country each year are due to suspensions meted out in ninth grade or later. When an individual lacks a high school degree, his or her social and economic options become severely limited.

This means a low-income job, underemployment or both — in turn, leaving these individuals to rely on social safety net programs like food and income assistance or subsidized health care. Unsurprisingly, this means they also pay fewer taxes.

Education is also well-established for its link to crime; an individual with little education and few options for legitimate work is more likely to be motivated to pursue alternative endeavors.

These factors add up to be what the UCLA researchers term the social cost of suspension.

Suspension also disproportionately affects students from low-income families and students of color, as past studies have found. Black students are more likely to be singled out for punishment, whereas low-income families find themselves financially burdened when their student is suspended, as a parent must often choose between either missing work or leaving their child alone at home.

The notion that the “bad” kids should be excluded from the “good” kids’ learning environment so the latter group can excel is a destructive myth. Exclusion during these formative years sets can set a precedent in a young person’s life — that they belong on the outside of “good” society.

If the nation slashed its suspension rate by even a single percentage point, more than 35,200 students would remain in class while creating 4,200 fewer high school drop outs. Were this to happen, the country would save $3 billion a year.

The UCLA’s new study reinforces the notion that schools’ “tough love” tactics are foolhardy, at best, and life-altering, at worst. Either way, it is patently clear that the high fiscal and social costs of student suspensions justify putting it in the same historical waste bin as paddling and belting.

Photo Credit: BrianAJackson / Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago

wow never knew

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

There are other alternatives..

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago


Tia T.
Tia T2 years ago

The author's viewpoint in this article is so stupid and so flawed I don't even know where to start nor do I have the time. Have you ever heard of alternative schools? You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink.

Cela V.
Cela V2 years ago


Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn2 years ago


Susan T.
Susan T2 years ago

umm, maybe instead of suspensions...make them work at the school. do WORK and lean that their actions have consequese, sorry spelled it wriong

Susan T.
Susan T2 years ago

really? so students who assault teacher are ok. I think NOT!

Teresa E.
Teresa E2 years ago

Whatever you decide ( my children are grown now ), please stop the unfair policy of putting the children with behavior problems in the same classes with the special education students. They have enough problems, they are working twice as hard as the average student just to stay at grade level, and they don't need or deserve to have to deal with the most disruptive students.