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Testimony Opposing Assembly Bill 693

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I’m Ken Taylor, Executive Director of Kids Forward. Kids Forward (formerly known as the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families) aspires to make Wisconsin a place where every child thrives by advocating for effective, long-lasting solutions that break down barriers to success for children and families. Using research and a community-informed approach, Kids Forward works to help every child, every family, and every community thrive.  Kids Forward projects working to achieve this vision include Kids Count, the Wisconsin Budget Project and the Race to Equity Project.

Teachers deserve safe working environments. But the punitive actions promoted by this bill would do little to protect teachers, and instead make it harder for students to achieve their full academic potential. Wisconsin educators, policymakers, and parents have worked hard in recent years to reduce the number of students who are suspended – hard work that would be counteracted by the provisions in this bill.

According to a study released by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA few years ago, Wisconsin’s high schools suspended black students at a greater rate than any other state in the country.   And when they compared the suspension rates of different races and ethnicities they found that again Wisconsin was the worst in the nation.  Their analysis showed that at the high school level, Wisconsin had the largest black-white suspension gap in the country.  Current data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows that compared to white students, American Indian students are three times as likely to be suspended, Latino children are over twice as likely to be suspended, and African-American students are nearly nine times as likely to be suspended. While reasons for those disparities are complex, one powerful driver is the subjectivity of adults. Students of color are punished more severely than their white peers for similar infractions.

This bill would increase the number of suspensions and keep more kids out of the classroom, making it harder for students to succeed academically. It would also increase the amount of contact students have with law enforcement, which would have disproportionate impact on youth of color, who are already much more likely to face negative consequences in the juvenile justice system.

This bill offers no additional resources or new approaches to improving classroom safety by addressing student behaviors, teaching conflict resolution strategies, or providing more support for students who are struggling. Instead it supports the false narrative that students are dangerous and further criminalizes their behavior. Schools need more resources, more support, and more ways to address the issues that often underlie challenging behaviors.

And it turns out that when there are high levels of suspensions, even the kids who aren’t suspended are harmed.  New research shows that high rates of suspensions harm math and reading scores for non-suspended students, as they respond negatively to the higher levels of anxiety and disconnection created by frequent suspensions.

Not only does this bill fail to accomplish its goal of keeping teachers safe, it adds barriers to academic success and dismantles what we know to be effective in helping all students thrive. For this reason, I ask you to oppose AB 693.