Parental choice programs in Louisiana, Wisconsin, and elsewhere are under attack by the Obama Administration at a time when parents and students need them most. At the same time, the administration is imposing new safety rules on schools that will likely make many of them less safe, as I explain in National Review Online:
Ineffective schools are reason enough to support choice programs that give parents the final word on where their children attend school. When crime and violence also become part of the equation, choice should be a no-brainer.
The new school-discipline policies have been in the works since 2010, when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that his department would use so-called disparate-impact criteria to investigate school districts’ discipline policies. Prompting the move were statistics indicating that African-American and Hispanic students were being disciplined at higher rates than other students. From these statistics, Duncan concluded that certain schools and school districts must bediscriminating against the disciplined students. Or, as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights put it in a 2011 briefing report, “statistically disparate results create a presumption of discrimination.”
What this policy means is that once the U.S. Department of Education identifies disparate discipline rates based on data collected by its Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the presumed-guilty school district or school must justify its disciplinary actions.
Starting in 2010, the OCR initiated 20 investigations of schools with significant racial disparities in discipline.
Since then schools throughout California, for example, have adopted quota-based discipline policies that effectively ban suspensions or expulsions of minority students, mostly African-American and Hispanic students. The result has been a significant increase in fights and violence at schools. After all, students know that if they fit a certain racial profile the worst consequence they’ll likely face is having to meet with a social justice counselor.
Public schools in Minneapolis have recently followed suit and implemented race-based quotas to satisfy federal disparate impact discipline rules.
Expanding parental choice is a better way to keep students safe at school—no matter what their race.
If parents have a reasonable fear for their children’s safety or well-being at school, including concerns that given their particular ethnicity or race their children will be treated differently under schools’ discipline policies, they shouldn’t have to hire lawyers or file lengthy complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights—then wait around for investigations that could take months or years.
All students should be eligible for Safety Opportunity Scholarships (SOS) instead. Parents who want a safer school for their children would simply use an SOS scholarship to transfer their children elsewhere—without all the bureaucratic red tape and expense that keep their children trapped.
This approach would keep all children safe now and years from now because schools would have powerful incentives to implement and follow sensible, equitable discipline policies—or risk losing students and their education funding to schools that do.
[A previous, more expansive blog posting on this issue is available at The Independent Institute’s Beacon Blog here.]