Public school students are more likely than private school students to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats, according to a recent review of the academic literature published in Journal for School Choice.

“A cross-sectional comparison of self-reported survey questions asked to public and private school principals reveals that private schools may have systematic advantage over public schools,” the report’s authors state. “One systematic advantage for private schools comes in the form of fewer restrictions related to school climate and safety that might make students feel more comfortable and trustworthy.” For example, “private schools are less likely to control access to school buildings during school hours, require students to pass through metal detectors, close the campus for all students during lunch, use random dog sniff checks for drugs, perform one or more random sweeps for contraband, require clear book bags (or ban book bags), and require students to wear badges or photo IDs.”

After controlling for school-level characteristics, the authors report private schools are 8 percentage points less likely than public schools to experience fights among students, as well as 28 percentage points less likely to experience student weapon possession on school grounds, and 13 percentage points less likely to experience racial tension, just to highlight a few examples.

The authors conclude that “future research should explore if our findings translate into better student learning in private schools over time,” and that “policymakers should further consider the role of school choice in reducing crime-related incidence at schools.”

One method policymakers could employ is to implement Heartland’s 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.

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 all families, as every child deserves the opportunity to escape an unsafe school and realize their full potential in a safe learning environment.

The following documents provide more information about school safety and school choice.

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.