A bill unanimously passed by the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate would require the state Department of Education make public school system disciplinary data for students suspended or expelled.

Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center's JustChildren program backed the bill after attorney Angela Ciolfi went digging for the disciplinary statistics and found they weren't easy to access.    

"The data goes to the Department of Education and sits there," Ciolfi said.  "Although you could look at suspension rates overall, you couldn't see some of the disparities in suspension rates that we were finding when we requested the information from the state."

Virginia public schools suspended 90,500 students during the 2010-2011 school year.  Ciolfi found African-American and disabled students were disciplined at higher rates.

The bill would require the department publish disciplinary offenses and outcomes - broken down by race, ethnicity, gender, and disability - each year for each school system.  Parents could search the data online, and schools could see how they compare to other systems across the commonwealth.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan, (D) 71st District, said, "They can look at other school divisions that have similar numbers of students and figure out what are they doing that maybe we could do better and not have such a disproportionate impact."

The information is aggregate, so it wouldn't identify individual students.  Ciolfi believes shining light on the disciplinary disparities can help schools boost student achievement by keeping kids in class.

"That gives communities information to see whether this is a problem in their schools and then work together to try to address it," Ciolfi said.

Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin already publish the data.  Supporters hope this bill will be Virginia's first step to develop programs that reduce suspension and expulsion rates.  The bill awaits Governor Bob McDonnell's review.