Review of Child Safety Accounts: Combating Student Bullying and School Violence by Empowering Parents, by Vicki Alger, Tim Benson, and Lennie Jarratt (The Heartland Institute: 2020), 104 pages, ISBN 978-1-934791-71-4; $6.99
School shootings, bullying, and gangs—for American parents, protecting their children from dangers at school is a top priority. But what about parents who struggle to afford the costs associated with transferring their child to a safer school? The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, is calling on all states to implement Child Safety Account (CSA) programs that would help parents send their children to safe schools.
Child Safety Accounts: Combating Student Bullying and School Violence by Empowering Parents, by Heartland scholars Vicki Alger, Tim Benson, and Lennie Jarratt, lays out the plan for CSAs in every state. Similar to Education Savings Accounts, which help parents send their children to the schools that best meet their needs, CSAs would allow parents to remove their children from unsafe schools.
“Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), students may transfer to another public school under the Unsafe School Choice Option provision if their current public school meets the state definition of ‘persistently dangerous,'” the authors write. “Because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, less than 50 public schools out of nearly 100,000 nationwide are labeled ‘persistently dangerous’ each year.”
Permission for Immediate Transfers
Under current laws, transferring children out of dangerous schools is a long and burdensome process, say the authors.
“Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents can transfer them to safer schools,” the authors write. “That is why The Heartland Institute is proposing states create a Child Safety Account program that would allow parents to immediately transfer their child to a safe school—be it private, parochial, or a different public school—as soon as they feel the public school they are currently attending is dangerous to their child’s physical or emotional health.”
Instead of narrowly defining violence as the threat to student safety, as the ESSA does, Heartland’s CSA program would include a wide variety of threats to student safety—including bullying, hazing, and sexual and verbal harassment. Parents could use CSAs to send their children to a public school outside their residential district, or to virtual, private, and parochial schools. CSAs could even fund college-level courses taken while a student is in high school, the authors state. Unused funds would roll over from year to year.
Strong Support for Choice
ESAs and school choice programs are popular with the public, the authors state.
“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,” the authors write.
That figure includes 72 percent of respondents with incomes of less than $40,000 a year, 79 percent of African Americans, and 72 percent of self-identified Democrats.
CSAs would build on the success and popularity of school choice programs, the authors state.
“Under a CSA program, students would be eligible for transfers if their parents have a ‘reasonable apprehension’ for their safety, based on the experiences of their children,” the authors write. “This includes bullying, hazing, and harassment. Parents would also be able to make the decision based on incidents-based statistics schools would be required to report. No longer would students have to wait years until their school meets ESSA’s narrow definition of ‘persistently dangerous’ or until they become the victim of some form of violent crime.”
Only chronically unsafe schools would have to worry about the possibility of losing many students under CSAs, and that would give them a strong reason to improve, the authors write.
“The loss of these students, and the education dollars that go with them, would force schools to improve security in order to keep their existing student body as well as attract new students,” the authors stated. “If they cannot do this, they will shut down.”
‘Top Off’ Option
The Heartland Institute proposes states “top off” their CSA programs to provide further help for low-income parents who want to send their child to a safer school.
“For parents who need more help than what the Child Safety Accounts can offer on their own, there are other measures that could be undertaken to help them get their children into a safe school,” the authors write. “These programs would cover expenses that exceed the funding available from CSAs.
“It allows parents and others to contribute toward tuition and other expenses that exceed the amount reimbursed by a government program,” the authors write. “One way lawmakers can allow parents and others to ‘top off’ is by implementing income tax credits and deductions for education expenses such as tuition, specialty courses, tutoring, books and supplies, and transportation costs. Five states—Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Carolina—have already established tax-credit programs.”
Numbers Showing Rising Need
The need for CSAs is urgent, the authors state. About 20 percent of all 12- to 18-year-old students report being bullied at school. The suicide rate for 13- to 18-year-olds increased by 31 percent from 2010 to 2015, and many of these tragic deaths were directly related to bullying.
Despite these numbers, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department put heavy pressure on schools to limit law enforcement referrals: “Starting in 2013,” the authors write, “schools embraced the Obama administration’s discipline policy based on restorative justice policies … which emphasize counseling and social service referrals instead of having the police arrest students for serious offenses.”
One student who was not arrested under the new policy was Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who killed 19 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida in 2018.
Ashley Herzog ([email protected]) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.