How ESEA Could Help End Discriminatory School Discipline

Gina Womack, Families and Friends
of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children

While debate around the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has focused mainly on issues like standardized testing, school accountability and funding, an op-ed by Louisiana education organizer Gina Womack raises another important issue for federal policymakers: addressing the discriminatory impact of harsh school discipline policies. As the executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, Womack is more than familiar with how racial disparities in school discipline contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. She argues these disparities and the achievement gaps they help cause will persist unless schools are accountable for more than their test scores.

As Womack writes in The Advocate

"ESEA should include funding for restorative justice practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions Supports, which would help teachers and administrators educate everyone who walks through their school doors. We need an ESEA bill that respects the diversity of learners and promotes creativity, innovation and caring school climates that do not push students out of school, but that push them to excel."

The federal government has already taken some steps to address these disciplinary problems, most notably last year when the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint recommendations for ending discriminatory, harsh, and ineffective discipline policies in schools and replacing them with restorative justice programs. Including these programs in ESEA could bolster school discipline reform efforts by, for example, providing funding to train teachers and administrators in the better disciplinary practices the federal government already recommends.

Read Womack's full op-ed here.