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Research & Commentary: Arizona Should Expand ESA Program to Include Juvenile Crime Victims

January 23, 2019

Ten Percent Of Arizona High Schoolers Skipped School In 2017 Over Safety Concerns

A bill introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program by opening it up to students who are victims of certain crimes on school property, including “battery, harassment, hazing, kidnapping, physical attack, robbery, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, threatening, intimidation, fighting, sex trafficking or human trafficking.”

Enacted in 2011, the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program was the nation’s first education savings account (ESA) program. More than 6,000Arizona students in 134 participating private schools are currently enrolled in the program. Overall, 22 percent of Arizona students are eligible for the program, including children with certain disabilities, children in foster care, children living on Indian reservations, and the children of active duty military personnel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19.2 percent of Arizona high schoolers were bullied on school property in 2017. Another 15.2 percent were electronically bullied, 7.9 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, 6.2 percent were in a physical fight on school property, and 10.2 percent skipped school because they felt unsafe there. Most disturbingly, 8.2 percent report being raped, including 11.5 percent of females, and another 11.3 percent attempted suicide.

The latest results from an annual survey by Phi Delta Kappa reveals more than one-third of parents fear for their child’s safety at school. Altogether, 34 percent answered they are afraid for their children while they attend school. This number rises to 48 percent for parents earning less than $50,000 per year. 

Research shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

Copious empirical research on ESAs and other school choice initiatives also finds these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, ESAs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. 

It is probably for these reasons that ESAs are more popular than ever with parents. The results of EdChoice’s sixth annual Schooling in America survey, released in December 2018, found 74 percent of respondents favor ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2017. According to the survey, support for ESAs is 76 percent among Millennials, 72 percent for those with incomes under $40,000 a year, 79 percent for blacks, 70 percent for Hispanics, 72 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Furthermore, 78 percent of public school teachers surveyed support ESA programs.

Student victims of violent crimes and harassment should be afforded the opportunity to enroll in the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program. As things currently stand, the district model in Arizona effectively allows only wealthier families to transfer their child to a safer school when they feel it is imperative. The freedom afforded to those families should be afforded to all families, as every Arizona child deserves resources that allow them to escape an unsafe or unhealthy school environment.

The following documents provide more information about school safety and school choice.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/protecting-students-with-child-safety-accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in moving their child from an unsafe school. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately move their child to a safe school— private, parochial, or pub­lic— as soon as parents feel the school their child is currently attending is too dangerous for their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, save taxpayers money, reduce segregation in schools, and improve students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-Schooling-In-America-by-Paul-DiPerna-Michael-Shaw-and-Andrew-D-Catt.pdf
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa830.pdf
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a one percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/ten-state-solutions-to-emerging-issues-2018
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lennie Jarratt, Heartland’s project manager for the Center for Transforming Education, at ljarratt@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org @BenceAthwart