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December 6 2014

Oklahoma Scholarship Program’s Helping Put More Parents in Charge of Students’ Safety

Vicki E. Alger

Schools nationwide are scrambling to comply with quota-driven federal discipline mandates—and students are paying the price in terms of increased violence on campus.

As Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Michael C. Carnuccio explains in his recent Journal Record column:

With the horrific and heartbreaking news coming out of an Oklahoma high school recently, including the alleged rape of a 16-year-old student in a bathroom during lunchtime, the issues of school safety and bullying are once again in the news.

Come to think of it, when are they not in the news? Incidents related to school safety and the sexual abuse of Oklahoma students are not uncommon, as is sadly documented over at the blog Choice Remarks (SchoolChoiceOK.com).

We must provide these students a life preserver, right now.

Mr.  Carnuccio is right.

Two years ago I had the pleasure of speaking at an OCPA event at the Capitol in Oklahoma City about why Safety Opportunity Scholarships (SOS) are a better way to keep children safe at school now—not years from now.

If parents have a reasonable apprehension about their children’s safety and well-being at school, an SOS program would simply allow parents to transfer their children to safer schools using the funding currently associated with their child. Those funds could be used to attend another public district or charter school, private school, online school, or home school—which ever option parents thought was best. So structured there’s no additional cost—and more likely a tremendous savings. Here’s why.

Under the current regulatory-compliance model, parents and schools that do not agree to a transfer must expend significant resources hiring lawyers and battling it out in court. This adversarial process takes months even years to resolve. Meanwhile, students are stuck.

And there are huge bureaucratic obstacles parents must overcome.

Under the Unsafe School Choice Option within the No Child Left Behind Act enacted during the George W. Bush Administration, students in unsafe schools were supposed to have an escape route. Trouble was, to get the law passed back in 2001 compromises were made to exclude private schools and to leave it to resident school district officials to decide whether out-of-district transfers would be allowed.

Perhaps the biggest barrier of all was that states defined unsafe schools so narrowly, it was virtually impossible for schools to meet the criteria. Consequently, fewer than 50 schools nationwideout of nearly 100,000—were deemed unsafe year after year.

Oklahoma is one state that’s taking positive steps to keep its promise of safe schools, as Mr. Carnuccio explains:

We must provide these students a life preserver, right now. …

Thankfully, that escape hatch already exists in Oklahoma – but only for some students.

Special-education students – those for whom an individualized education program, or IEP, has been developed – are eligible to receive a Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship to attend a private school.

Students like Phylicia, for example, who was bullied at her local elementary school in Tulsa.

“Sometimes kids would tease me about things and say what a retard I was, and it upset me really bad,” she said in a film called Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Stories.

YouTube it.

“So I would go into the bathroom and I would eat my lunch in there, or cry about it in the bathroom,” she said.

It’s wonderful that Oklahoma’s political leaders were able to toss a life preserver to Phylicia and other special-education students.

They need to do the same for all children.

Oklahoma’s elected officials have made tremendous strides for so many students thus far. Now ensuring every student is a success story like Phylicia —instead of another heart-wrenching headline—must be a top priority.
 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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