recently released annual report from the Maryland State Department of Education shows incidents of bullying in state public schools has increased by almost 33 percent from the 2015–16 school year to the 2016–17 school year. Altogether, there were 6,091 incidents of bullying reported across the state during the past school year, an increase of 1,386 reported instances over 2015–16. Baltimore County schools led the way, with 901 filed incidents, followed by Montgomery County’s 870 instances. Talbot County had the most incidents relative to student enrollment, with 17.2 incidents per 1,000 students, followed by Wicomico County, which had 14.9 incidents per 1,000 students.

“Student behavior is out of control in our schools,” Dana Casey, a 25-year English teacher in Baltimore City Schools, told Fox 45 News. “Teachers have no authority at all anymore in the school. None. So we’re just trying to hold back the tide, and we really aren’t very successful at it a lot of the time … I see the children of Baltimore being failed … not being provided a safe environment, being left in a position where they will have not much of a future to look for unless something changes.”

These bullying statistics are not unique to Baltimore, or even to Maryland. The U.S. Department of Education found there were almost 1.1 million “serious offenses” during the 2015–16 school year on school grounds across the country, roughly one for every 50 students that attend public schools in the United States. These offenses include more than 789,000 physical attacks or fights without weapons, 11,900 physical attacks or fights with weapons, 24,000 robberies (including 1,200 with a weapon), 10,100 incidents of sexual assault, 1,100 rapes or attempted rapes, and 5,700 incidents of possession of a firearm or explosive device. Additionally, the DOE study found during the 2015–16 school year, there were more than 135,000 “individual allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, or religion.”

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) permits students to transfer to another public school under ESSA’s Unsafe School Choice Option provision, but only if their current public school meets the state definition of a “persistently dangerous” school. Because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, fewer than 50 public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year.

Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of violent crime before their parents are al­lowed to transfer them to safer schools. That is why The Heartland Institute is proposing states should create a Child Safety Account (CSA) program. A CSA is a type of education savings account (ESA) for parents who feel, for whatever reason, their child is unsafe at school. A CSA would empower parents to transfer their children immediately to the safe schools of their choice within or beyond their resident public school districts—including public district, charter, and virtual schools—as well as private and parochial schools. CSA funds could also be used to pay for homeschooling expenses.

(The full brief on Child Safety Accounts is available here.)

Under Heartland’s CSA program, students would be eligible for a CSA account if their parents have a “reasonable apprehension” for their children’s physical or emotional safety based on the experiences of their children, including bullying, hazing, or harassment. Parents could also determine the school their child attends isn’t safe after reviewing the incidents-based statistics schools would be required to report. Parents would no longer have to wait years until their child’s school meets ESSA’s too-narrow definition of “persistently dangerous” or, worse, until their child becomes the victim of some form of violent crime.

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. As things currently stand, the system only effectively allows wealthier families to move their child to a safer school when they feel it is imperative. The freedom afforded to those families should be afforded to allMaryland families, as every child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe school environment.

The following document provides more information about education safety accounts.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in moving their child from an unsafe school. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately move their child to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the school their child is currently attending is too dangerous for their child’s physical or emotion­al health.