Research & Commentary: School Bullying Bill Is a Good Start, but California Needs to Go Further

Published July 27, 2018

A bill making its way through the California State Assembly would allow children who have been bullied in their district government school to transfer to another government school in a different district. The student must have been determined to have been a victim of bullying through a complaint process by “any pupil in the school district of residence,” and one of the parents of the pupil must have filed a “written complaint regarding the bullying with the school, school district personnel, or a local law enforcement agency.” The bill would also allow interdistrict transfers to any children of an active-duty military parent, homeless children, children in foster care, and “migratory” children. These last three categories encompassed more than 400,000 students during the 2015–16 school year, according to the California Department of Education.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18 percent of California students have reported being bullied on school property, a number that is most assuredly too low, as one in five middle- and high-schoolers report being bullied in school nationwide. Across the country, 34 percent of parents fear for their child’s safety while they are in school, a number that rises to 48 percent for parents earning less than $50,000 per year.

These parents are right to be concerned, as CDC reports 6.3 percent of California students admitted to skipping school in 2017 due to safety concerns. Another 4.7 percent admitted to carrying a weapon on school property, 5.7 percent were in a fight on school property, and 13.6 percent admit to being cyberbullied. Seventeen percent admit to having seriously considered suicide, while 9.4 percent have actually attempted it.

While this bill is a good start, California needs to go further. All California parents should be afforded the opportunity to transfer their child from a public school they feel is unsafe, and they shouldn’t have to wait for their children to be victimized for that to happen.

That is why The Heartland Institute is proposing California 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.

The California 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
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 protected] or 312/377-4000.