A new study shows that the school-to-prison pipeline starts earlier than we thought.
According to data released this week by the Education Department's civil rights arm, black children accounted for about 18 percent of preschool enrollment but for half of the students suspended more than once, the Associated Press reports.
The data show that overall, black children of all ages are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white children. Boys account for more than two-thirds of suspensions, but black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race, and their rate of suspension is higher than boys of most other groups.
Advocates have long noted that zero-tolerance disciplinary policies have a disproportionately large impact on black children, but much of the focus has been on middle and high school students. These new data show that the trend begins with the youngest of students.
During the 2011-12 school year, 5,000 preschoolers overall were suspended once, and 2,500 overall were suspended more than once.
The new data do not provide an answer to why the discrepancy exists or why the students were suspended.
"Almost none of these kids are kids that wouldn't be better off with some support from educators," Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told AP. "Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared."
Read more at the Associated Press.