Research & Commentary: School Choice Leads to Better Mental Health for Students
School Choice States See Positive Mental Health Outcomes And Decline In Adolescent Suicide Rates
A joint study from Corey DeAngelis of the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University finds school choice programs are helping produce positive mental health outcomes for students participating in them.
The groundbreaking study reveals that states that offer private school choice through “broad-based” voucher programs and charter schools are also experiencing a decline in adolescent suicide rates.
“States are increasingly expanding education options available to families via charter schools and voucher or voucher-like programs that facilitate attending private schools,” the authors write in their conclusion. “We consider how these school choice programs affect the number of adolescent suicides. Further, we use survey data to examine how attending a private school correlates with adult mental health. Both analyses yield a similar conclusion: school choice improves mental health.”
“The congruence of results strongly supports a causal link between school choice programs and improved mental health,” they continue. “These results add to the literature demonstrating how school choice improves non-cognitive outcomes of students. Further, as public attention focuses on the mental health of adolescents in the United States, the results imply that increased school choice advances the public goal of improving mental health outcomes.”
Naturally, when students are in a comfortable environment, mental health will, for most, improve. Unfortunately, many students are stuck in unhealthy or, even worse, unsafe school environments and their parents lack the resources to transfer them to a different school. 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 American public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year.
Students should not have to wait years while their mental health deteriorates or they become victims of violent crime before their parents are able to transfer them to safer schools. To address this dreadful situation, The Heartland Institute has created a Child Safety Account (CSA) program. CSAs are 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 remove their children from unsafe schools and choose a safer education environment. CSA funds could be used to pay for tuition at public charter, public, parochial, private, and virtual schools, as well as homeschooling and other education-related 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 is not 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.
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. This represents a large jump from 2013, when only 12 percent of respondents answered they feared for their child’s safety.
As things currently stand, the district model in most states effectively allows 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 child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe or unhealthy school environment.
The following documents provide more information about school safety and school choice.
The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
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.
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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 email@example.com or 312/377-4000.