Schooled Reporting on education

School safety becomes school choice rallying cry

Education | Renewed attention to violence in public schools could boost efforts to give parents more say over their students’ education
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/12/18, 05:00 pm

Concern over school safety has fanned the flames of gun control efforts and prompted debates about metal detectors and arming teachers. But could it also give the school choice movement a boost?

Advocates hope so and are rallying behind a new safety-themed choice program: the Child Safety Account (CSA). It would give money to parents who want to take their students out of neighborhood public schools because of bullying, harassment, threats, or actual violence. Parents could use those funds to pay for other public schools, private schools, or homeschool expenses.

If you think the CSA sounds a lot like the ESA (education savings account), you’re right.

It’s the same thing, under a different name. But it creates a whole new marketing opportunity.

“The U.S. education system’s failure to protect children and provide parents with reasonable alternatives is precisely why CSA programs are so desperately needed,” wrote Tim Benson with The Heartland Institute. “As things stand now, the system only effectively allows wealthier families to move their child to a safer school when they feel it is imperative. This privilege should be afforded to all families, as every child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe school environment.”

Replace “unsafe” with “low-performing” and you have the sales pitch for ESAs.

That duplication isn’t a bad thing. If choice advocates can win support for taxpayer-funded savings accounts for a limited group of students, they have a better chance getting them approved for all students. That’s why many choice measures, including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, tend to first win approval for low-income families or special needs students.

The new CSA proposal has one major advantage over limited ESAs, which many parents could dismiss as addressing someone else’s problem. All parents are concerned about safety, especially when the definition of unsafe expands past gun violence, which remains incredibly rare.

General violence is much more common. In his pitch for CSAs, Benson cites government statistics from the 2015-2016 school year, released by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year. The government data shows that 1 in 50 students experienced some kind of “serious offense” on school grounds that year. Examples include physical attacks or fights, both with and without weapons, robberies, sexual assault, and rape.

Reading through the statistics is enough to make any parent say, “I’m not sending my baby into that kind of environment. No way!”

That universal desire to keep children safe could be the rallying cry choice advocates need to gain widespread acceptance for the idea of taking taxpayer money away from public schools. So far, that’s been a really hard sell.

But creating an escape route for students who attend dangerous public schools already has some history of bipartisan support as part of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act. That bill allows students trapped in “persistently dangerous” schools to transfer to another public school. But persistent danger is a high bar, and only 55 of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public school campuses earned that designation during the 2015-2016 school year.

Perception is often the enemy of reality. But in this case, the widespread narrative that schools are unsafe because of gun violence could help highlight the much more common dangers students face every day. If so, perception could become the school choice movement’s best friend.

Facebook/Rutgers University Facebook/Rutgers University The Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, N.J.

Redefining anti-Semitism

The U.S. Department of Education has reopened an investigation into anti-Semitism at Rutgers University, allegations the Obama administration dismissed in 2014. The second look at Rutgers is part of a revamped approach to handling discrimination claims against Jews. That seems like something anti-bias groups would support, but they don’t. They say the new policy has more to do with politics than religious liberty.

The definition of anti-Semitism outlined by Kenneth Marcus, the who leads the department’s Office for Civil Rights, includes demonizing or delegitimizing Israel. That’s common for pro-Palestinian groups on campus, especially those advocating for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which attempts to force Israel to end its settlement policy. Marcus has blamed the BDS movement for rising anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Pro-Palestinian groups complain the new definition of anti-Semitism is too broad and will end up stifling all criticism of Israel, a serious violation of free speech protections. The debate over what constitutes anti-Semitism strikes at the heart of the free speech–religious liberty tug-of-war dividing the country. Is it possible to disagree with someone without hating them? —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Bebeto Matthews Associated Press/Photo by Bebeto Matthews Members of Penn State hazing victim Timothy Piazza’s family (from left): his brother Michael, girlfriend Kaitlyn Tempalsky, mother, Evelyn, and father James

Unlikely allies take on hazing

I’ve written a lot in the last year about hazing at fraternities and sororities. It’s a depressing story because it highlights the worst in human nature. But this week brought some good news for a change: Two families who lost children after hazing incidents on separate college campuses launched a new effort to change the party culture at fraternities and sororities. And they have an unlikely ally: fraternities and sororities. Leaders of the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference are joining the effort to lobby state lawmakers to stiffen penalties for hazing, making it a felony to force students to consume alcohol during a hazing ritual. Of course, changing the law won’t automatically change behavior. But both organizations say they will work hard to change the alcohol-dependent culture in their campus chapters. —L.J.

No more afternoons off?

The left-lunging Center for American Progress is out with a list of seven education policy proposals that all involve increasing government involvement in children’s lives. No surprise there. But one suggestion makes sense: extend the length of the school day to match the typical workday. The policy analysts make great points about how hard it is on parents to find (and pay) for after-school child care. Longer school days would be good for families and children, who would get more targeted learning time. The biggest hurdle? Coming up with the money to pay teachers to work longer hours. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is the news editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • VolunteerBB
    Posted: Thu, 09/13/2018 12:50 pm

    Longer school days?  Surely you jest!  Kids are tired and wiped out after the current schedule.  Why warehouse your kids with progressive babysitters even longer?  You are right to mention the cost, and current teachers would be against it, they would be replaced with daycare workers, which it would become.  Maybe we need more people to stay home and take care of their kids.  Can't afford it?  Of course not, it takes 2 parents working these days to make ends meet on a frugal budget.  Add this cost to the property tax on housing, and it would cost even more.  Think of ways a parent or Aunt, or grandmother could be home when the kids get home around 3:00.  Lots of good ideas out there, this isn't one of them.