Monday, April 30, 2018

School choice is the solution to school bullying

"In government-run public schools across the country, too many students are unable to escape bullying, even after they leave school grounds," researchers at the Heartland Institute write.
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 Accounts” Policy 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.”

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