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Research & Commentary: One-Third of Parents Fear Schools Are Unsafe. Give Them School Choice

July 25, 2018

Half Of Parents Making Under $50,000 A Year Fear For Their Child's Safety While In School

An annual survey by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) reveals more than one-third of parents fear for their child’s safety at school. Altogether, 34 percent of the 1,042 respondents answered they are afraid for their child while they attend school. This number rises to 48 percent for parents earning less than $50,000 per year. This represents a large jump from 2013, when only 12 percent of respondents answered they feared for their child’s safety.

“Fear also tops 40% among urban parents, nonwhites, and those without college degrees,” PDK notes. “And Democrats and liberals are 20 and 16 points more likely than Republicans and conservatives to say they’re fearful for their child’s safety. … Forty-four percent of Republican parents are extremely or very confident in their school’s safety, compared with 25% of Democrats and 20% of independents. Confidence is higher among suburban and rural parents as well, 31% vs. 20% among those in urban areas.”

“One in three parents fears for their child’s safety, and I think that’s an important finding to keep in mind — that’s a heck of a lot,” said Gary Langer, the president of Langer Research Associates, which conducted the poll for PDK.

Parents are right to be concerned. While schools are historically safer than ever, the U.S. Department of Education still found there were almost 1.1 million “serious offenses” during the 2015–16 school year on school grounds across the country, roughly one for every 50 students that attend public schools in the United States. These offenses include more than 789,000 physical attacks or fights without weapons, 11,900 physical attacks or fights with weapons, 24,000 robberies (including 1,200 with a weapon), 10,100 incidents of sexual assault, 1,100 rapes or attempted rapes, and 5,700 incidents of possession of a firearm or explosive device.

Additionally, the DOE study found during the 2015–16 school year, there were more than 135,000 “individual allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, or religion,” a number that is most assuredly too low, as one in five middle- and high-schoolers reports being bullied in school. Seven percent of students voluntarily report they skipped school in 2017 due to safety concerns.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) permits students to transfer to another public school under ESSA’s Unsafe School Choice Option provision, but only if their current public school meets the state definition of a “persistently dangerous” school. Because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, fewer than 50 public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year.

Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are al­lowed to transfer them to safer schools. That is why The Heartland Institute is proposing states should create a Child Safety Account (CSA) program. A CSA is a type of education savings account (ESA) for parents who feel, for whatever reason, their child is unsafe at school. A CSA would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to the safe schools of their choice within or beyond their resident public school districts—including public district, charter, and virtual schools—as well as private and parochial schools. CSA funds could also be used to pay for homeschooling expenses.

(The full brief on Child Safety Accounts is available here.)

Under Heartland’s CSA program, students would be eligible for a CSA account if their parents have a “reasonable apprehension” for their children’s physical or emotional safety based on the experiences of their children, including bullying, hazing, or harassment. Parents could also determine the school their child attends isn’t safe after reviewing the incidents-based statistics schools would be required to report. Parents would no longer have to wait years until their child’s school meets ESSA’s too-narrow definition of “persistently dangerous” or, worse, until their child becomes the victim of some form of violent crime.

The U.S. education system’s failure to protect children and provide parents with reasonable alternatives is precisely why CSA programs are so desperately needed. As things currently stand, the system only effectively allows wealthier families to move 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 child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe 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.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-the-future-of-school-choice-has-arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

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.

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 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

 

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 John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at jnorthdurft@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