A state Senate bill co-authored by Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, has been amended to "encourage" rather than "require" California public schools to limit suspensions, and to establish the creation of regional forums for school leaders whose campuses have extensive suspensions.

A fiscal analysis of the bill before the changes were made found it would cost $12 to $20 million to implement a statewide program for a minimum of three years. The changes make it so the bill has no fiscal impact on schools.

The bill continues to be reviewed in Senate committees. It originally required schools that have suspended more than 25 percent of a school student body or more than 25 percent of specific minority groups to reduce suspension rates, and help improve the overall levels of student success.

Estimates showed about 3 to 5 percent of nearly 10,000 schools in California would have to implement the new strategies, including hiring of a counselor at each of those campuses.

The amended bill asks the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide in regional forums assistance and training to school leaders whose schools have excessive suspnesions.

The bill was introduced earlier this year following scores of media reports, including many by The Californian, focusing on disciplinary statistics in Kern County. Federal data show that in 2010-11, Kern's schools had four times the state average for expulsions, and greater than the number expelled in Los Angeles County, which has about nine times the student body. Statistics also show black and Latino high school students received a disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions.

School officials attacked the statistics as misleading.

-- Jorge Barrientos, Californian staff