U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

African-American students are suspended and expelled from schools at a rate three times higher than their white peers, according to new federal data.

A nonpartisan government watchdog agency released a report Wednesday outlining severe disparities between how white students and students of color are disciplined. Independent of school poverty level, type of public school or type of disciplinary action, boys, students with disabilities, and African-American students are being punished at far higher rates than other students, the report says. For African-American students, these inequities start as early as preschool.

The Government Accountability Office report was requested by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) as civil right groups are fighting tooth and nail to keep the guidance alive. The 2014 guidance calls on schools to reduce their reliance on harsh disciplinary practices like suspensions and expulsions and also warns schools they could run afoul of federal law if certain groups of students are disproportionately punished.

The report “Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities” was released on the same day Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with groups to discuss possibly rescinding Obama-era guidance designed to reduce these inequities. The Obama guidance issued in 2014 instructed schools to adopt milder discipline practices and took them to task for racial disparities. Also, schools where students of color were facing disproportionate punishment could face federal investigations and a possible loss of funding.