Picking up where the Dallas ISD school board left off earlier this year, the Texas House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ban the state's public schools from suspending students attending pre-kindergarten through second grade. Like Dallas, the proposed state wide policy includes an exception for extreme behavioral issues like violent assaults, weapons, drugs and alcohol.
Dallas Representative Eric Johnson authored the house legislation. "We have a problem with children being put in what we call the school-to-prison pipeline," Johnson said. "We want children to be kept in school and disciplined in a way that actually corrects behavior and allows them to continue to get educated."
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According to a report from the Texas Appleseed foundation, one that significantly influenced the debate over school suspensions in Dallas, schools kicked 36,753 Texas kids from kindergarten to second grade out of class during the 2013-2014 school year. During the same year, schools sent 2,513 pre-K kids home. The study found that the vast majority of those removals were discretionary, based on student codes of conduct, rather than state law.
When kids are suspended, they are more likely to drop out of school later. Kids who drop out are much more likely to end up in prison, according to Texas Appleseed.
While Johnson's bill appeared on the house's consent agenda Tuesday, one local legislator, Bedford's Jonathan Stickland, expressed opposition. "You're not concerned this takes local control away from schools?" Stickland asked Johnson. As the bill has made its way through the Texas House, no school districts have registered opposition to the rule. School districts in Houston, Austin and El Paso have all recently adopted similar policies to Dallas.
It is unclear if the legislation has much chance in the Texas Senate as the 2017 session winds down, but the legislature has been open to reforming zero tolerance policies over the last two sessions. In 2015, the legislature decriminalized truancy, enacted another Texas Appleseed priority.