August 16, 2017

Illinois Enacts Protection from Preschool Expulsion

by Michael Abel, Director of Research and Evaluation

On August 14, 2017, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed HB2663, a bill that will protect children in publicly-funded early childhood programs from being expelled. This groundbreaking legislation is in response to a joint statement issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 calling for states to establish policies that prevent expulsion in preschool. Advocacy organizations, including the Ounce of Prevention Fund, Illinois Action for Children, and Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children, pushed the plan.

In a national study, Dr. Walter Gilliam found that at least one preschooler was expelled per year in about 10 percent of state-funded pre-K programs. The rate of expulsion was higher for African Americans and boys. Developmentally, preschool-aged children are just learning to self-regulate and communicate with others. They may not have the skills to meet teacher expectations in the classroom. Furthermore, differences in cultural backgrounds and adverse childhood experiences may contribute to expulsion rates.

This new Illinois legislation is a model for nationwide reform of expulsion criteria and advances a policy agenda that is supportive of all children during the critical preschool years. In addition to protecting children from expulsion, the bill also calls for increased mental health support for children and increased professional development for teachers and caregivers. The act includes provisions for when children exhibit persistent and serious challenging behaviors and a systematic process for transitioning to a more appropriate setting. While some early childhood administrators may feel the burden of additional regulation, they may also benefit from a defined process for working with families who have a child with serious behavioral needs. Dr. Walter Gilliam will be a keynote speaker at the 2018 Leadership Connections™ national conference, hosted by the McCormick Center.