AUSTIN -- State Rep. Eric Johnson (Dallas) presented legislation this week that would require school districts to report demographic data about out-of-school suspensions to the state.
On Tuesday, Rep. Johnson laid out House Bill 65 before the House Committee on Public Education. The bill would require school districts to report the race, sex and dates of birth of suspended students, as well as information on why the students were suspended and the length of the suspensions. The bill would also require districts to report the number of suspensions that were inconsistent with student code of conduct guidelines in the Education Code.
Districts would add the information to a report they already submit to the Texas Education Agency regarding expulsions and alternative school. The legislation is an effort to give researchers and the public greater information about the frequency and underlying causes of school suspensions.
“My bill would require the same information already reported on expulsions and alternative school placements to be reported on out-of-school suspensions,” Rep. Johnson said. “This data will allow us to craft better policies related to school discipline, and that’s going to help us address the underlying causes of suspensions.”
House Bill 65 is part of Rep. Johnson’s ongoing efforts to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2017, Rep. Johnson authored and successfully passed House Bill 674, which prohibits the suspension of students in pre-K through second grade except in the most serious cases.
Continuing that effort, House Bill 65 “is the data and transparency piece,” Rep. Johnson said.
“We want to make sure that kids are being put on a path to graduation and not to prison,” Rep. Johnson said. “People want to study this topic, but they can’t really study it without good data.”
Representatives of Texans Care for Children, Easterseals, Texas Appleseed and Pastors for Texas Children testified in support of House Bill 65 at Tuesday’s hearing.
“We think a closer look at suspension policies can lead to an expansion of strategies that actually improve behavior and learning,” said David Feigen of Texans Care for Children, an organization that has highlighted research showing students who are male, African-American and in foster care or special education are disproportionately affected by suspensions.
Jolene Sanders of Easterseals told the committee that, in Houston ISD, African-American students make up 24.4 percent of the population but account for 51 percent of out-of-school suspensions.
“In order to really make meaningful progress in this area, we do need this data,” Sanders said.
As is custom early in a legislative session, the Public Education Committee did not vote on House Bill 65 during Tuesday’s hearing.
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