OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLA. -- Safety Opportunity Scholarships, which empower parents to choose safer schools for students who have faced bullying or other threats in their current schools, are an effective way to keep Oklahoma students safe, says Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum in Washington D.C. and the featured speaker at an Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs event today.
"Students should not have to wait years at a time or become victims of crime before their parents are allowed to transfer them to safer schools," Alger said. "Empowered parents, not ineffective mandates, are a better way to keep children safe at school."
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students may transfer to another public school if their current one meets their state’s definition of a persistently dangerous school, but, because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, less than 50 public schools out of nearly 100,000 nationwide are labeled PDS each year.
Oklahoma is no exception. Since 2003, no Oklahoma public school has ever met the state’s PDS threshold. That doesn't mean, though, that all students attend school in an atmosphere "conducive to learning," as the authors of NCLB intended. Parents know better than bureaucrats whether their children face safety threats that impede their children's ability to learn.
Under a Safety Opportunity Scholarship program, parents with a reasonable apprehension for their children’s safety—because of instances of bullying, for example—could transfer them immediately to safer schools of their choice within or beyond their resident school districts, including public, charter, virtual or private schools.
Importantly, the program would cost the state nothing; the scholarship program would simply reallocate the allotted education funding for a particular child from the school to the parent. Should parents opt to send their children to a less expensive school than the school their children currently attend, savings would revert to the state general fund.
“It’s no secret that Oklahoma’s schools don’t always provide the safe learning environment that children deserve," said Brandon Dutcher, OCPA Vice President of Policy. Examples of emotional, mental and physical abuse in schools are too numerous to chronicle (though one can catch a glimpse of the problem here). Children in an unsafe environment deserve a ticket out—immediately. Here’s hoping our state’s political leaders will heed Dr. Alger’s advice and enact a Safety Opportunity Scholarship program.”
At 1 p.m. today in Room 104 of the State Capitol, Alger will speak to this subject and answer questions from the audience. The event is open to the public.