After the tragic events of February 14, 2018, Broward County, Florida, became known nationwide by one word: Parkland. Home to the sixth-largest school district in the U.S., Broward became the focus of state and national attention after a school shooting took the lives of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A federal commission was appointed to review the overlap between burdensome federal policies that limited schools’ options on how to keep students safe and Parkland’s school district provisions. The Mackinac Center was a signatory on a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calling for her agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to rescind this example of federal overreach. (DeVos and the Department of Justice did so in December.)
Meanwhile, a Florida commission recommended tighter security measures for Parkland and Broward County schools, and newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Broward Sheriff Scott Israel for Israel’s handling of the incident.
Last fall, in my interview with Kenneth Preston, a Broward County student who closely tracked the events and spoke before the school board about school safety issues, he told me, “The students that knew something told adults and the adults didn’t do something. We know a lot more about the logistics of [the alleged shooter] being pushed through the system.”
School safety has a central place in the minds of students and parents today. One report says school shootings are “this generation’s 9/11.” The study found that 68 percent of individuals aged 14-29 say that school shootings are the nation’s most important issue.
In Georgia, safety-related issues were parents’ top considerations when choosing a school in a 2013 study. Research from New York and Ohio found similar results. In the largest survey ever conducted of a private school choice option, Jason Bedrick of EdChoice and my colleague Lindsey Burke found school safety ranked third on parents’ list of priorities when choosing a school. And in Michigan, 20 percent of charter school parents surveyed last year by the Mackinac Center listed concerns with safety as a primary driver for deciding to exercise school choice.
Some state policy makers have already taken notice. Not surprisingly, last year Florida became the first state to offer private school choice opportunities to children who were bullied or “subjected to an incident of battery; harassment; hazing … kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school.”
In recent years, research has demonstrated that students who choose where and how they learn, using an education savings account, private school scholarship or choosing a public charter school, experience positive academic outcomes and are generally satisfied with their choice. And every parent wants their child to succeed in school — but they also want their child to be safe. Nothing can replace the peace of mind that comes from knowing your child is going to be protected from harm.
The Parkland event and the local, state and federal activity since has made National School Choice Week even more important for families in 2019.
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