The Leaflet: School Choice Is the Solution to School Bullying

Published April 26, 2018

In government-run public schools across the country, too many students are unable to escape bullying, even after they leave school grounds. The problems aren’t isolated or minor, either. Twenty-one percent of students aged 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the 2015 school year. During this same 10-year period, there was a steady uptick in youth suicide.

Ruthless cyberbullying, which can terrorize children 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has become endemic because of social media. This suggests that bullying exerts a bigger toll on young people due to its expansive digital presence—tragically pushing desperate students over the edge.

Incessant intimidation and bullying also lower learning potential. In 2015, 14 percent of 15-year-old students attended schools that reported student learning was hindered by students harassing or bullying their peers. Perhaps U.S. students’ stagnant education performance, despite massive increases in school funding over recent decades, can be partially attributed to the hostile learning environments many students are trapped in.

School choice is a viable solution to the problems many children encounter inside and outside of public schools. Parents are desperately searching for more school choice options because government schools cannot protect their children from bullies and other forms of school violence. In fact, nearly two-thirds of people support school choice, including 41 percent who strongly support it, according to a 2018 survey of likely voters conducted by the American Federation for Children. Support is even higher among Latinos and African-Americans.

In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) set a precedent more states should follow when he signed into law the Hope Scholarship Program, a tax-credit scholarship program allowing public school K–12 students who are victims of bullying, harassment, and violence to transfer to another public or private school.

The Heartland Institute is dedicated to improving student safety. In its newly released “Protecting Students with Child Safety AccountsPolicy Brief, Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki Alger and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson propose giving public school students a parent-controlled savings account they can use if their children’s current school environment is a danger to their wellbeing.

Under Heartland’s plan, state education dollars, which are annually allocated for public school pupils, would fund a Child Safety Account (CSA), which would be made available to every student facing a dangerous school environment. The funds could be used to transfer eligible students to a safer school (public, private, charter, or virtual) within or beyond their residential district. The funds could also be used for homeschooling expenses. Parents and other private donors could further fund, or “top off,” the CSAs if the state-allocated money is not enough to cover education expenses.

As it currently stands, wealthy families possess a major advantage if they want to transfer their victimized children from a dangerous school because they can afford to pay for private schools or to homeschool kids. CSAs equal the playing field because they allow all students to attend a safe school. CSAs ensure vulnerable students who are unfairly disadvantaged by the financial circumstances of their parents have the opportunity to receive an excellent education—free from constant bullying and harassment.

Alger and Benson contend, “CSAs would offer parents a near-instantaneous solution to school safety problems by empowering them with the ability to quickly and easily move their child to the school they determine to be the best and safest fit. … CSA programs would not be a silver-bullet solution to the bullying and violence problems plaguing America’s public schools, but they certainly would allow all families, no matter their income level, much greater access to the schools best-suited for their children and their unique safety and educational needs.”

What We’re Working On

Budget & Tax
Missouri Proposal Would Repeal Costly Prevailing Wage Laws
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a Missouri bill that would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. “Government projects are often criticized because they far exceed initial budget projections, and prevailing wage laws contribute significantly to cost overruns. Misguided prevailing wage laws increase construction projects costs, reduce competition, encourage waste, and breed cronyism,” wrote Glans.

Health Care
Pennsylvania Bills Would Add Work Requirements to Medicaid and SNAP
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans considers Pennsylvania bills that would impose work requirements on two safety-net programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid. “Medicaid should focus on encouraging able-bodied recipients who are enrolled in welfare programs to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on government aid, not to encourage dependency on government aid,” wrote Glans.

Energy & Environment
How Obama-Era Regulations Are Shutting Down Perfectly Good Power Plants
In this Policy Study—the second in a series of four—Center of the American Experiment Policy Fellow Isaac Orr and Heartland Senior Fellow Fred Palmer offer an overview of the “war on coal” and the damage done by the Obama-era “zombie regulations.” Two of these regulations are analyzed in-depth: the Clean Power Plan and the addition of carbon dioxide to New Source Performance Standards for new power plants. They also address seven zombie regulations unrelated to carbon dioxide that are adversely affecting coal-fired plants. Lastly, they describe the Trump administration’s achievements in replacing destructive Obama-era regulations with rules based on real science and sound economics.

Massachusetts Career Technical Education Programs Increasing Graduation Rates, Raising Test Scores
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Timothy Benson provides insights on a recent study published in Education Finance and Policy that shows low-income students engaged in career technical education (CTE) at Massachusetts’ 36 regional vocational and technical high schools are 21 percentage points more likely to graduate high school than their public school peers. Low-income CTE students also scored higher on standardized tests than their public school peers. Benson notes this latest study reinforces prior research on the benefits of CTE programs, and argues policymakers should give students more opportunities to pursue career and technical training education programs.

From Our Free-Market Friends
Time to Get Our Heads Out of the Sand
Susan Pendergrass of the Show-Me Institute exposes Missouri’s underfunded state public pensions. For example, the Missouri State Employees Retirement System (MOSERS) has a massive funding gap; the public pension’s assets cover just 70 percent of its liabilities. Nearly 20 percent of state employee payroll must be allocated to MOSERS this year just to maintain the already inadequate funding level. Pendergrass also documents the dire situation of the Public Schools Retirement System (PSRS), the pension plan for Missouri teachers. Analysis of PSRS reveals teachers must pay into the pension for at least 26 years before their retirement benefits exceed their contributions. PSRS has a funding gap of nearly 16 percent, with unfunded liabilities a staggering $7 billion despite an overoptimistic anticipated investment return rate of 7.6 percent.

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