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Scholarships offer chance to keep school students safe

BY VICKI E. ALGER Published: December 1, 2012

Most parents and policymakers believe their public schools are safe. They might change their minds if actual safety statistics were more transparent.

A relative handful of schools nationwide (fewer than one in 10) account for half of violent incidents. Nevertheless, federal officials caution that crime on school campuses is “substantial” and that “students are more fearful at school today than in the past.”

Around 80 percent of public schools nationwide report violent criminal incidents. Close to half of all schools report incidents of theft; more than two-thirds of schools report crimes involving weapons, drugs, alcohol and vandalism. Crime statistics are similar for suburban and urban public schools, with nearly one in five urban and suburban schools reporting incidents of violent crimes. Yet these statistics don't tell the whole story.

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 (PDS). But because states define unsafe schools so narrowly, fewer than 50 public schools out of nearly 100,000 nationwide carry the PDS label each year. Oklahoma is no exception.

Since 2003, no Oklahoma public school has ever met the state's PDS threshold. One reason is that it's limited to violent criminal offenses. What's more, the state's PDS threshold stipulates a specified proportion and kind of violent criminal offenses that must occur for three consecutive years before a school is considered persistently dangerous.

Students shouldn't have to wait for safer options — and state lawmakers shouldn't wait for Congress to act. Oklahoma should consider implementing a Safety Opportunity Scholarship (SOS) program. Under an SOS program, parents with a reasonable apprehension for their children's safety — including instances of bullying — could transfer them immediately to safer schools of their choice within or beyond their resident school districts, including public, charter, virtual or private schools.

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