September 4, 2009 | Commentary on Education
Looking back on our school days, there were always some things we feared: bad grades, lousy lunches and hallway cliques.
But those fears seem tame by today's standards. Many children in our nation's public schools have a lot more to fear as they head back to class this fall.
A recently completed study by The Heritage Foundation and the Lexington Institute showed troubling facts about the safety of children in the District of Columbia Public Schools. Among the key findings: During the 2007-'08 school year, police responded to more than 900 calls to 911 reporting violent incidents at the addresses of D.C. public schools and more than 1,300 events concerning property crimes.
This confirms a previous U.S. Department of Education analysis that the District of Columbia's public schools are unsafe. The federal government reports, "11.3 percent of D.C. high school students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property -- a rate well above the national average and higher than most states."
Some readers may want to dismiss this as being a problem in one particular city. Unfortunately, the truth is that safety is an issue in many of the country's school districts. Far too many of our children live under the fear of bullying and intimidation, making it even more difficult to concentrate on their studies.
Of course, not all children in our country live with this fear. For some families concerned with their children's safety at their assigned public school, there is the option of moving to a district with higher-performing, safer schools. Other families may choose to enroll their children in private schools. But for families who can afford neither private-school tuition nor a home in a more affluent district with better schools, this often means remaining in underperforming or even unsafe public schools.
It's true even here, exactly where the debate is happening -- in our nation's capital.
For the past five years, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP) has been helping low-income families send their children to a private school of their choice. For the fortunate recipients, the D.C. OSP is a chance to attend a safe and effective private school. In addition to enabling a quality education, the D.C. OSP also provides a lifeline for students looking to escape the District of Columbia's dangerous public schools.
Unfortunately, the future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program looks bleak.
The powerful teacher's unions despise the program because it underscores the public schools' inability to provide students with a quality education. For the unions, the number-one priority is increasing the number in their ranks so they'll have greater political clout and can demand increased federal funding. Sadly, this approach doesn't do much to ensure our children are getting a quality education in a safe environment.
This is unacceptable. No child should have to live with the fear of being assaulted or intimidated in a place of learning. We all know that there is no shortage of distractions while attending school -- school crime shouldn't be another.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is an effective option for hundreds of families looking for a lifeline to escape the city's dangerous schools. It's time for Congress to listen to these families, instead of to the powerful teacher's unions.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Bajo el Sol (Yuma, Arizona)