Legislation Passes in Both California and Massachusetts to Combat Inequitable Use of Exclusionary Discipline in Early Childhood Education

Jumpstart and Partners Lead Efforts for Policy Change.  

“When a child is suspended or expelled, they do not receive the benefits that early learning and education provides, and this disproportionately impacts toddlers and preschoolers of color.”  

Governor Gavin Newsom of California 

Every child deserves the opportunity to learn the foundational skills necessary to succeed later in life. Yet, research shows that children of color, particularly Black and African-American boys, are often unfairly excluded from classrooms as early as preschool, because of inequitable discipline practices including suspension and expulsion.  

Jumpstart stands firmly against exclusionary discipline. Our Policy and Government Relations team has been working hard to combat these widespread inequitable practices, and recent efforts in California and Massachusetts resulted in breakthrough legislation!  

With expulsion rates for preschool children “three times higher than [other] school-aged children, ” and Black children “2.2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children”, Jumpstart and partners have been engaged in a national fight for legislation that prohibits or limits the use of suspension and expulsion. Thanks in part to this advocacy, there have been some exciting bills passed in Massachusetts and California to help end exclusionary and discriminatory discipline and severely limit the use of suspension and expulsion.  

Massachusetts: A Mighty Passage 

In 2021, Massachusetts Advocates for Children found that throughout the state, in public pre-K through third grade, Latinx and Black children were three to four times more likely to experience exclusionary discipline than white students. To address this inequity, Massachusetts lawmakers drafted An Act Supporting Healthy Development Among Preschoolers (H.544/S.316). Despite Jumpstart and partners’ best efforts and Jumpstart’s testimony at a Joint Committee hearing in November 2021, this bill was unsuccessful. When Jumpstart saw that it would not pass as a standalone bill, we remained resolute and shifted our strategy to get key language of the bill included as an amendment to the House’s mental health omnibus bill, titled An Act Addressing Barriers of Care to Mental Health (S.3097). 

A sweeping mental health bill emerged at the end of the legislative session and was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on August 10th, 2022 with the early education discipline passage from the original bill, stating: “The department shall develop performance standards necessary for prohibiting or significantly limiting the use of suspension and expulsion in all licensed early education and care programs.” 

Although the bill focuses on reforms to the way that mental health care is delivered in Massachusetts, we believe this small but mighty passage will limit the racially inequitable use of exclusionary discipline in Massachusetts.  

California: Landmark Legislation 

Until recently, California laws did not clearly define what constituted a suspension or expulsion in an early learning setting, and there also was no limit as to how many times one child could be suspended. These unclear definitions made it easier for exclusionary practices to occur and in the 2018-19 school year, suspension rates for Black students across all grade levels were more than 2.5 times higher than the state average.   

To address this, in February 2022, legislators drafted a bill that prohibited suspensions and expulsions in state preschool and childcare programs except as a last resort. It offered educators guidelines and staff training to better work with children and provided early childhood mental health support and consultation for teachers, students, and their families.  

Jumpstart actively worked to ensure the passage of the bill and when it was going through the Assembly Committees on Education and Human Services, Jumpstart provided letters of support to Kidango and Black Men for Educational Equity, two organizations that introduced the bill to the California State Assembly. In addition, Jumpstart directly reached out to the staff of Senate committee members as the bill was making its way through various stages and posted on social media to encourage approval of the bill and rally followers to contact their Assembly Members and senators.  

On September 30th, 2022, the bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. In the press release announcing the signing, the Governor’s team shared:  

“When a child is suspended or expelled, they do not receive the benefits that early learning and education provides and this disproportionately impacts toddlers and preschoolers of color. AB 2806 aims to change this and support California’s youngest learners.”  

Jumpstart is thrilled at the passage of this bill, which will help ensure that all children in California can have the formative early learning experiences they need to thrive.  

Building Brighter Futures 

Exclusionary discipline sadly continues to be a critical issue across the nation, but we celebrate the progress made this year in California and Massachusetts to help end exclusionary and discriminatory discipline. 

Taking away exclusion as a tool for educators may be a difficult transition, especially when other tools – such as supporting students’ mental health – are not within immediate reach. Still, Jumpstart is committed to ensuring educators have the professional development and support necessary to address challenging classroom behaviors appropriately. To take action and learn more about exclusionary discipline and Jumpstart’s work for a more equitable early childhood sector where every child thrives, please fill out this questionnaire. 

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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