Denying Children School Choice Endangers Their Safety

This article appeared on the Washington Examiner on March 5, 2020.
  • Related Content

Families should be confident their children are safe when they are at school. But New York’s district‐​run schools are unfortunately not living up to that minimum standard.

Bullying incidents hit record highs, and 82% of kids in New York City reported bullying in 2017. Meanwhile, the Department of Education still hasn’t fully implemented the parental bullying complaint system it promised to set up nearly two years ago.

Time’s up: Students stuck in unsafe schools shouldn’t have to wait any longer. All families should be able to choose safe schools for their children. And increasing access to public charter schools in New York could mean more safety for students. Here’s why.

My new study, just released by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, finds that public charter schools generally report substantially fewer school safety problems than district‐​run schools in New York City and the rest of the state.

After controlling for several observable differences in students and schools between sectors, data show that public charter schools reported fewer assaults, sexual offenses, weapons possessions, bullying, and false alarms on a per‐​pupil basis than district schools in New York City in the 2017–18 school year.

These charter school safety advantages were substantial in size. For example, public charter schools in New York reported 79% fewer forcible sex offenses and 59% fewer assaults with serious physical injuries. However, public charter schools reported more instances of cyberbullying than district schools in New York City.

School choice critics argue that public charter schools experience these kinds of advantages because they have the autonomy to suspend students with behavioral issues more often than district schools. But each of the public charter school safety advantages remained even after controlling for differences in suspension rates between sectors.

This isn’t the first study to find that school choice leads to more school safety, either.

Five of the six other rigorous studies on the topic suggest that public charter schools are generally safer than district schools. None of the six studies found that public charter schools are less safe overall.

Another study by researchers at Princeton and Harvard found that winning a lottery to attend a charter school in New York City reduced teen pregnancies by 59% for female students, and completely eliminated incarceration for male students. The lesson here is clear: Getting into a high‐​quality charter school can be life‐​changing for students.

These results shouldn’t surprise us. Families care about the safety of their own children more than anyone else, and parents consistently rank their children’s safety at the top of the list of reasons why they exercise school choice.

But what about the kids who remain in the district schools?

Temple University’s Sarah Cordes’s peer‐​reviewed evaluation from 2018 found that competition from New York City’s public charter schools increased reports of safety in nearby district schools as well. School choice is the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Families desperately want better schools for their children. The most recent estimates show that over 47,000 students are on waitlists to get into public charter schools in New York City. But these students are out of luck because zero charters are currently available to be issued in the city due to the statutory limit on charter schools.

State policymakers have the ability, and the moral obligation, to allow more children to access safer schools by getting rid of the charter school cap. Families shouldn’t have to wait any longer. They should have the option to pull their kids out of unsafe government schools right now.

Corey A. DeAngelis

Corey A. DeAngelis is the director of school choice at Reason Foundation and an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute. He is also the executive director at Educational Freedom Institute.