A new report from WalletHub reveals Arkansas high schools are rife with bullying. Unfortunately, Arkansas high schools rank second among “States with the Biggest Bullying Problems”—only Louisiana is ranked ahead of Arkansas.
Using data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics, amongst others, the report notes the Gem State, at 26.7 percent, had the highest percentage of high school students bullied on school property.
Arkansas ranked fourth in the number of high school students bullied online (19.8 percent of students), fifth in the percentage of high school students who missed school out of fear of being bullied (10.8 percent), and tied for first in the percentage of high school students who attempted suicide (15.8 percent). CDC notes 8.8 percent of Arkansas high schoolers were in a fight at school in 2017.
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 American public schools out of nearly 100,000 are labeled “persistently dangerous” each year.
Students should not have to wait years or become victims of violent crime before their parents are able to transfer them to safer schools. To address this dreadful situation, The Heartland Institute has created a Child Safety Account (CSA) model program. CSAs are 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 remove their children from unsafe schools and choose a safer education environment. CSA funds could be used to pay for tuition at public charter, public, parochial, private, and virtual schools, as well as homeschooling and other education-related 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 is not 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.
An annual survey by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) reveals more than one-third of parents fear for their child’s safety at school. Altogether, 34 percent answered they are afraid for their child while they attend school. This number rises to 48 percent for parents earning less than $50,000 per year. This represents a large jump from 2013, when only 12 percent of respondents answered they feared for their child’s safety.
The Arkansas 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 district model effectively allows wealthier families to transfer their child to a safer school when they feel it is imperative. Arkansas’s only school choice program, the Succeed Scholarship Program, provides voucher eligibility for children in foster care or who have a disability. The program only served only 151 students in 2017–18.The freedom afforded to those families should be afforded to all Arkansas families, as every child deserves to have the resources available to allow them to escape an unsafe school environment.
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.