State, Federal Lawmakers Propose Child Safety Accounts
To address the widespread problem of sexual misconduct, as well as bullying and violence in public schools.
The Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Student Protections and Title IX received more than 450 sexual misconduct complaints in nine months, totaling three per school day.
CPS fired two dozen teachers and suspended nearly one hundred employees as a result of these complaints over the past school year.
Sexual misconduct toward students in Chicago schools is not a new problem. Last year, the Chicago Tribune ran a 14-part series uncovering widespread sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in the Chicago Public Schools over the past decade.
Nor is sexual assault unique to CPS or Illinois, says Tim Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News.
“According to the U.S. Department of Education, [nationwide] there were 10,100 incidents of sexual assault and another 1,100 incidents of rape or attempted rape in public schools in the 2015-16 school year alone,” Benson said.
Safer School Choices
One way to address the widespread problem of sexual misconduct, as well as bullying and violence in public schools, is to allow the parents of children facing an unsafe school environment to transfer to the government school or private school of their choice, Benson says.
Benson and Vicki Alger, a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, coauthored a policy brief titled Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts, published by The Heartland Institute in April 2018.
Bullying and physical violence are common problems facing parents today, Alger says.
“We mustn’t forget that school safety still remains a pressing issue for too many students today,” Alger said. “Around one in five middle- and high-school students report being bullied. Four out of five students report violent incidents at their schools.”
CSAs, a type of education savings account parents could use to pay for tuition, fees, and other education-related expenses at government schools, private schools, and for homeschooling, would bring much-needed relief, Alger says.
“CSAs would allow parents to move their children immediately to a safer school—be it private, parochial, or public—as soon as they feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotional health,” Alger said.
Florida became the first state to enact a CSA-style program in 2017, Alger says.
“Florida’s Hope Scholarship program empowers parents to act without having to wait for permission from school officials,” Alger said. “Any student who’s been subjected to any of a wide range of school safety incidents is eligible for a scholarship to another public or private school of their parents’ choice,” Alger said.
State Legislation Pending
Policymakers and state legislators are increasingly supportive of Child Safety Accounts, Alger says. At least 11 pieces of CSA-style legislation have been introduced in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia, and West Virginia, and more are on the way.
“It’s likely several more states will be introducing CSA legislation in the coming year,” Alger said.
In Colorado, state Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) introduced a bill (H.B.19-1112) that would create an escape route for endangered students by providing CSAs for children who experience sexual misconduct, bullying, or violence, on February 5.
Neville’s bill would also create an income tax credit for parents of qualified students with child safety accounts for payment of eligible expenses above the amount of the CSA. Neville says his legislation is about more than distributing state education funds—it’s about giving families choice over their education.
“The freedom of choice in education that is afforded to wealthy families should be extended to all families,” Neville told School Reform News.
Offering Congressional Action
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) introduced the Child Safety Account Act (H.R. 2538) to address unsafe public-school conditions in Washington, D.C., which the federal government oversees, on May 7, 2019.
“School safety and the wellbeing of children is every parent’s number one concern,” Banks said in a news release on May 7. “In today’s complex world, school safety problems have become more prevalent. … This Child Safety Account program will give families choices to pursue educational opportunities that keep their children safe and secure.”
Under the Child Safety Accounts Act, a D.C. child would become eligible for a CSA if he or she is facing a “safety issue” at school, after the parents file a request with school administrators. These safety problems include bullying, sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse, fighting or physical assaults on the student, and concerns over gang activity or drug use at school.
An amount equal to 80 percent to 90 percent of the District’s uniform funding per student would be deposited in the CSA each year, depending on family income. To help ensure parents can afford to pay for any eligible expenses above their children’s CSA amounts, Banks’ bill would also create a tax-credit donation program.
The bill currently has two cosponsors: Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Rep. Ted S. Yoho (R-FL).
“It is my hope that the success of the program inspires more states to adopt similar policies and help children feel safe and free to learn at school,” Banks said in his press release.
Cassidy Syftestad (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN): https://banks.house.gov/
Colorado state Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock): https://leg.colorado.gov/legislators/patrick-neville
Timothy Benson and Vicki Alger, “Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts,” The Heartland Institute, April 25, 2018: https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/protecting-students-with-child-safety-accounts