The Leaflet: Amid a Plague of School Violence, School Choice Offers Relief

Published September 14, 2018

Public support for school choice programs in the United States is increasing, according to the latest annual poll from Education Next. In a nine point increase from last year, 54 percent of respondents favor state-funded vouchers that can be used to pay for tuition at public or private schools. The results also reveal that 57 percent of respondents are in favor of tax-credit scholarships, which allow individuals and corporations to donate money in exchange for tax credits. These donations are used to fund the private school tuition of low-income children.

Support for universal school choice grows as a startling number of parents fear for their children’s safety at their local district school. In fact, one-third of parents fear for their child’s safety in public schools, according to a survey by Phi Delta Kappa. Twice as many low-income families question their child’s safety at school (48 percent) as affluent families (24 percent).

These fears of compromised student safety at public schools are grounded in reality, according to a survey from the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 1.1 million “serious offenses” in public schools were reported in the 2015-16 school year, including physical attacks or fights, thefts, use of weapons, and sexual assaults. An additional 135,600 “minor offenses” were reported during the same period, including harassment and bullying.

These surveys reveal the awful conditions of many American public schools. Public school students are more likely than private school students to deal with transgressions of safety and school policies such as alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, racial tension, gang activity, and weapon-based threats, according to a recent article published in the Journal of School Choice (JSC).

Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson summarized the JSC article’s findings in a Research & Commentary: “After controlling for school-level characteristics, the authors report private schools are 8 percentage points less likely than public schools to experience fights among students, as well as 28 percentage points less likely to experience student weapon possession on school grounds, and 13 percentage points less likely to experience racial tension, just to highlight a few examples.”

State legislators should increase school choice opportunities to ensure every student in their state can learn in a safe environment. To promote this effort, Heartland created a Child Safety Account (CSA) program. CSAs allow children facing bullying, harassment, or other forms of physical or emotional violence to easily transfer to another school—public, private, or virtual. CSA funds would be monitored and controlled by parents—not government bureaucrats. Regardless of their financial circumstances, all students deserve the opportunity to learn in a productive and healthy environment.


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