Chicago Schools are Expelling 3-Year-Olds. It Needs to Stop

OP-ED: By State Rep. Juliana Stratton

Three-year olds are getting expelled from preschool. Let that thought sink in for a minute.

Research suggests that the expulsion of toddlers and preschoolers from early care and education settings is occurring at alarmingly high rates. While it may seem counterintuitive, a nationwide study in 2005 indicated that Illinois preschoolers were kicked out of their programs at a rate nearly three times that of their grade school and high school peers. More recent data from the Office for Civil Rights show that boys of color are subjected to higher rates of disciplinary action, and increasingly African-American girls are experiencing similar problems.

Why is this such an issue for young children, their families, and our communities? School expulsion is associated with negative educational, health, and developmental outcomes for all children, and expulsion in the earliest years leads to higher expulsion and suspension rates in later grades.

Illinois must end the practice of expelling preschoolers from their early childhood programs. This is why I’ve sponsored HB2663, a bill aimed at ensuring that children will remain in the most beneficial setting for their development by providing protections against preventable expulsion for those kids enrolled in Illinois State Board of Education-funded early childhood programs and licensed child care settings. In addition, the legislation identifies the trainings and topics needed to address the problem and asks state agencies to make this information available to programs. HB2663 also strengthens data collection and dissemination to guide future policymaking and practice-planning.

There are many reasons why preschool expulsion rates are high, and it’s important to recognize there is no one culprit to blame. It is often an amalgam of a child’s behavior, the programs’ interpretation of and response to that behavior, a family’s situation, and the state’s provision of guidance and resources to programs and families. But we know it’s happening too often, and the gender and racial disparities mean that we are leaving behind specific groups of children, which is unacceptable.

Our children have so much talent, but the preschool-to-prison pipeline makes it harder for them to realize all of that talent. Illinois must solve this problem. HB2663 is an important first step.