Research Findings & Solutions


“Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago.”


“Student-Led Solutions to the Dropout Crisis”

In 2011, VOYCE released our second report,“Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago.” This original cost-analysis report, written in partnership with the national civil rights organization Advancement Project, found that harsh discipline policies at CPS have negatively impacted school safety and student achievement, at a huge cost to taxpayers. VOYCE collected student stories, CPS budget information, and multiple research sources and concluded that harsh discipline policies are highly overused in Chicago, keeping students out of valuable learning time, decreasing students’ chances of graduating, and costing the city millions of dollars:

  • In 2009, there were 4,597 school-based arrests of CPS students age 16 and younger. 78% were for minor offenses.
  • Students who have been arrested are 50% more likely to drop out.
  • Based on the cost of each lost graduate, the report predicts that CPS’s school-based arrests in 2009 alone will cost Chicago taxpayers around $240 million in long-term costs. Simply cutting the annual number of arrests in half would result in $120 million in long-term economic benefits to the city per year

The report also examined the CPS budgets and found that this zero tolerance approach has diverted funds from more effective and proven approaches to school safety, such as guidance counseling, mental health supports, and peer mentoring.

  • In 2010, the budget of the Office of Safety and Security was 48 times larger than the budget of the Office of Student Support and Engagement, and 84 times larger than the budget of the Office of Teaching and Learning.
  • In 2010, CPS allocated just $3.5 million towards school-based college and career coaches, and $51.4 million towards school-based security guards.

The findings from “Failed Policies, Broken Futures” are currently being used by VOYCE youth leaders and their allies to demand strong limits on harsh disciplinary actions at all CPS schools, the creation of a detailed public database on the school-level use of suspensions, expulsions, arrests and referrals, and increased investment in effective prevention and intervention strategies. You can download the full report here.

In 2008 VOYCE released,  “Student-Led Solutions to the Dropout Crisis”. All of VOYCE’s organizing work is grounded in the findings of an intensive, year-long Participatory Action Research (PAR) project on the root causes of Chicago’s 50% graduation rate, conducted when VOYCE was first launched by student leaders in 2007. Over 100 youth collected and analyzed data from 1325 student surveys, 208 student interviews, 110 teacher interviews and 65 parent interviews.

They concluded that, to raise graduation rates, CPS must support district-level policies and school-level practices that foster trusting and supportive relationships with peers and school staff, establish the sense of purpose that comes from high expectations and academic engagement, and end the use of harsh discipline policies that push students out of school and into prisons.