Research & Commentary: Child Safety Accounts Allow All Colorado Students Access to Safe Schools

Published January 16, 2019

Legislation introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives would establish child safety accounts (CSA), a type of education savings account (ESA) that empowers parents to remove their children from unsafe schools and place them in a safer education environment.

Any Colorado public school student would be eligible for a CSA if they were “directly affected or involved” in a “safety incident” at school. These “safety incidents” are identified as bullying, sexual harassment, sexual abuse or misconduct, gang activity, fighting or any other act of violence, a suicide attempt or threat of suicide, a shooting, or any other incident a licensed Colorado physician examines and identifies to have taken place and harmed a student.

The parents could then use the CSA funds to send their child to a participating private school of their choice. Funds could also be used to help pay to transport the child to their new school or for therapy “necessary to cope with a safety incident,” as well as to pay for tuition and fees at a state institution of higher education. Funding for individual CSAs would equal the “state share of per pupil revenues of the enrolling school district or institute charter school for the budget year in which the account is created.” These funds would be directly deducted and transferred “from that amount that the [Colorado Department of Education] distributes to the school district’s or institute charter school’s budget for the budget year.”

Any CSA funds remaining at the end of the school year can be rolled over to the following school year. The bill also establishes an income tax credit to help CSA parents pay for eligible education expenses and another tax credit to encourage individuals and corporations to donate money to help pay the education expenses of CSA children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of Centennial State high schoolers were bullied on school property in 2017. Another 14.5 percent were electronically bullied, 5.8 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, and 5.2 percent skipped school because they felt unsafe there. Most disturbingly, 7.2 percent attempted suicide. Clearly, Colorado public schools are failing to adequately protect a significant number of their students from harm, and parents are noticing.

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 such as CSAs improve the mental health of participating students.

As things currently stand, the district model in Colorado 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 Colorado 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.

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
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)
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 Lennie Jarratt, Heartland’s project manager for the Center for Transforming Education, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.