School Safety Must be a Top Priority — Here’s What Parents Can Do

Published June 14, 2019

Debates continue to rage over the goals of education and methods used to achieve them. Sadly, however, precious little learning can occur when students live in fear of being attacked in the hallways or cafeteria, assaulted in restrooms or locker rooms, or bullied on school buses. The brutal psychological onslaught often extends beyond school hours, too, in the form of nasty insults and vile threats made via social media.

In our fractious age, the overriding wish of many parents — welldocumented in numerous surveys — is that their children make it safely through a school day. No doubt their kids agree. And the chatter at some schools about future shootings only magnifies the tension.

Despite these massive problems, there is a ray of hope for families stuck living with schools in which administrators won’t — or can’t — make student safety a top priority, the sine qua non for all learning. It comes with the May 7 introduction of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, House Resolution 2538, that would make child safety accounts (CSAs) available in Washington, D.C. public schools.

Under the proposed program, parents could pull their kids out of dangerous schools when they have a “reasonable apprehension” for their kids’ physical or emotional safety, and then use tax-free CSAs to pay for tuition, fees, therapies or other education-related expenses in the public or private schools of their choice.

Why just schools in D.C.? Because the District of Columbia is the sole K–12 school district over which the federal government has direct financial and operational authority. CSAs would be a blessing for families across the country, but it is up to lawmakers in each state to decide whether to extend this lifeline to endangered children.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who is sponsoring the D.C. CSA bill, stated in a press release he hopes success of the program will “inspire more states to adopt similar policies and help children feel safe and free to earn at school.”

My colleagues at The Heartland Institute have pioneered CSA reforms that would allow parents to pull their children out of a dangerous school without delay. The immediate relief contrasts sharply with the Unsafe School Choice Option in federal education law, which is so littered with bureaucratic obstacles as to make it just about impossible for any public school to be designated unsafe and for parental choice thereby to be activated. A mere 50 of every 100,000 public schools nationwide annually meet governmental criteria for an “unsafe” designation.

The latest edition of “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” from the feds’ primary data-collecting agency for education, the National Center for Education Statistics, indicates how much bigger the problem is. In 2017 there were 827,000 incidents of theft and “nonfatal violent victimization” (including assault, robbery, sexual assault and rape) among students ages 12 to 18, or 33 incidents per every 1,000 students. Further, one in five students reported being bullied at school, and 16 percent of students in grades 9–12 said they had carried a weapon (such as a gun, knife or club) with them somewhere at least once during the previous 30 days, with 4 percent admitting they had brought such a weapon onto school grounds.

It’s not surprising, then, that fully one-third of parents responding to the 2018 Phi Delta Kappa survey of attitudes toward public schools said they have fears about the safety of their children while attending school. The level of apprehension rose to a troubling 48 percent among parents who earn less than $50,000 per year.

Although it’s unlikely Democrats in Congress will support child safety accounts because of their close ties to public school unions, state and local policymakers don’t have to wait to see if a bipartisan majority in Congress coalesces to make CSAs available for most parents and their kids. They can examine the need in their own communities and act accordingly.

If they do, millions of lives would be improved — so what are state lawmakers waiting for?

[Originally Published at The Hill]