Thursday, March 29, 2018

Florida Becomes First State to Offer Student Safety Scholarships

 Florida is now the first state in the country to offer students scholarships to attend safer schools.

Last week Governor Rick Scott signed legislation creating the Hope Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to public school students victimized by an array of safety incidents, including:

“Every child in Florida should have the opportunity to get a great education at the school of their choice so they can achieve their dreams,” said Gov. Scott upon signing the bill into law (HB 7055).

The Hope Scholarship Program also stands out for its unique funding mechanism.

Unlike publicly-funded voucher programs, such as federal Pell grants and 26 state-level K-12 programs, Hope Scholarships are privately financed by car buyers who may donate up to $105 of their registration fee to the program. In return, donors receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their car purchase sales tax.

Non-profit scholarship funding organizations (SFOs) administer donations and scholarships, report to the state education department, and participate in annual audits by the auditor general.

Students transferring to another public school outside their current district may receive Hope Scholarships worth up to $750. Scholarships for students transferring to private schools will average around $6,800.

Tallahassee mother of five Alyson Hochstedler praised the new law, stating that “When the conflict is not resolved for the safety and welfare of the child, having another recourse like the Hope Scholarship becomes just that ... hope.”

Hochstedler added that a Hope Scholarship would have benefitted her son, who was tormented at his previous public school from third to fifth grade. Bullies punched him, slammed him into lockers, and even threatened to stab him. Yet school administrators did little to improve the situation.

Thankfully, another Florida choice scholarship program for low- and moderate-income families enabled Hochstedler to transfer her son, now 15, to a safe private school where he is “thriving.”

But not everyone supports the Hope Scholarship Program.

Deborah Temkin, senior program area director for Child Trends, insists that “bullying is a school climate issue, which isn’t solved when the child leaves the school.”

Well, school climate isn’t “solved” by keeping victimized students trapped schools that are unsafe for them, either.

Lead sponsor of the Hope Scholarship legislation Rep. Byron Donalds (R) recognizes this reality noting, “What we are trying to do is with these students who are subject to these outrageous acts of violence or abuse is to give them a path to continue their education.”

Current estimates (pp. 173-177) suggest that if just 10 percent of car buyers participate, their donations could fund scholarships for roughly 5,800 students—approximately 12 percent of the reported 47,000 students bullied annually in Florida.

The Hope Scholarship Program represents an important stride toward ensuring no child is victimized at school. And, combined with Florida’s existing and recently expanded choice programs, it increases educational opportunities for even more students statewide.

Importantly, the Hope Scholarship Program introduces powerful pressure for administrators to stop school bullying or risk losing victims to other schools—a practice that improves school safety for all students.

Florida’s progress stands in stark contrast to California.

Ten years ago California lawmakers also attempted to give student victims a path to safer schools.

Under the California Constitution all public school students and staff “have the inalienable right to attend campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful”(The Right to Safe Schools, Article I, Section 28 (c)). Yet as of 2008 not one of California’s more than 9,000 public schools had ever been classified as “unsafe” because the state’s definition was so narrow. Had schools been deemed unsafe, students would have been eligible to transfer to a safer school under the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s Unsafe School Choice Option (USCO) requirements.

The proposed Safe School Guarantee legislation would have allowed parents with a reasonable apprehension for their children’s safety to transfer them immediately, without having to wait years for some state bureaucrat’s say-so.

The California Federation of Teachers opposed the bill, and the author of the official bill analysis questioned parents’ ability to determine whether or not a school was safe. Ultimately, the bill was defeated in the Assembly Education Committee.

No parent should have to play “Mother, may I” with the state or federal government to enroll their child in a school they think is safe. Florida’s new Hope Scholarship Program helps return power over children’s education and safety where it belongs: with their parents.


3 Common Traits of School Shooters

It’s time to get serious about school safety.

Nearly 20 years separate the horrible tragedies at Columbine High School in Colorado and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In that time, too little has been done to make our schools safer.

That’s why our grieving nation is again searching for a solution. If America is ready to get serious about school safety, we need to focus on a range of pressing issues—including mental health, family breakdown, culture, media, and more.

Our children and grandchildren deserve to be safe at school. We can’t allow another tragedy to occur. It’s time to set aside political agendas and get serious about school safety.

Americans need an alternative to the mainstream media. But this can't be done alone. Find out more >>

That’s why we just published a comprehensive Heritage backgrounder, “Focusing on School Safety After Parkland.” Each op-ed in this series highlights one aspect of that paper, which provides real solutions to this complex problem.

What do school attackers have in common? Several things.

In addition to often exhibiting signs of increasingly violent and dysfunctional behavior, they are significantly more likely than the average population to suffer from undiagnosed or untreated mental illness; they often come from broken homes; and their shootings may be related to economic insecurity.

Let’s take a closer look at these factors.

1. Mental Illness

Even when serious mental illness is not present, school attackers almost always exhibit common traits of extreme resentfulness, anger, and a desire for revenge because of perceived social alienation.

It is not uncommon for a school attacker to have acted in increasingly disruptive and violent ways before the shooting. But for a variety of reasons, these individuals are often not involuntarily committed to a mental health institution or ordered by a court to receive mental health treatment.

This does not mean that mental health disorders are synonymous with violence—the vast majority of individuals suffering from mental health disorders will never commit violent acts.

It does mean, however, that the early identification and treatment of students with mental health disorders is of particular importance in reducing large-scale violent attacks at schools.

School attackers often “leak” their intentions to their peers, whether in person or via social media.

One of the Columbine attackers wrote online blogs that included statements about his desire to kill those who annoyed him, as well as specific violent threats directed against his classmates and teachers.

Before gunning down 17 students in Florida, the Parkland attacker was reported to the FBI for a YouTube posting in which he bragged about becoming a “professional school shooter.” He also reportedly joked to classmates on numerous occasions that he would be the one to “shoot up a school.”

It is also not uncommon for school attackers to show more indirect warning signs, such as an unhealthy fixation on firearms, writing projects focused on grotesque violence, or praising other infamous school attackers.

It is essential that teachers and other school professionals be attuned to these warning signs and take appropriate action up to and including engaging with outside mental health professionals and local law enforcement officials.

2. Broken Homes

Familial dynamics may also play a role in the early detection of students on the verge of committing catastrophic acts of violence.

Sadly, a majority of school attackers come from broken homes, often growing up with absent fathers or in the midst of divorce or domestic violence.

The Parkland attacker, who was raised alone by his adoptive mother since the age of 6, was merely the latest in a long line of troubled young men who grew up in less than ideal family situations.

The gunmen at Sandy Hook, Chadron High School, Isla Vista, SuccessTech Academy, Northern Illinois University, and Santana High School (just to name a few) all had divorced parents.

The young man who killed his grandfather before murdering seven of his classmates at Red Lake Senior High School had parents who never married, a father who shot himself, and a mother and stepfather who divorced. He also lived with a grandmother who was separated from her husband.

This does not mean that all students with difficult home lives should be considered potential school attackers or that students with intact, stable families should have troubling behaviors overlooked or dismissed.

It may mean, however, that holistic approaches to school safety should include an appreciation of the impact that a chaotic family life can have on a student’s feelings of desperation and violent actions.

The unfortunate fact that broken family relationships are often associated with greater risk factors for youths is nothing new. For decades, study after study has shown that stable, intact families play a vital role in developing thriving children and adolescents.

Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to exhibit violent behaviors or engage in physical fighting, and youths in fatherless homes are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than are those from two-parent homes.

Several studies have found that adolescents from intact families tend to report lower levels of emotional and psychological stress, while those who do not live with both biological parents are more likely to exhibit psychological affective disorders such as hyperactivity, irritability, and depression as adults.

The importance of having actively involved fathers and father figures cannot be overstated when it comes to the mental and emotional development of children. Fathers are important role models for sons. They play a key role in helping to maintain authority and discipline in the home. They help with self-control and feelings of empathy toward others—key character traits violent youth often lack.

Psychologist Marsha Kline Pruett notes that “[f]athers tend to be more willing than mothers to confront their children and enforce discipline, leaving their children with the impression that they in fact have more authority.”

3. Economic Insecurity

Socioeconomic trends may provide clues to identify further risk factors related to school violence.

A major study by criminologists at Northwestern University looked at the effect of economic conditions on the prevalence of school shootings and concluded that there is a significant correlation between periods of increased economic insecurity and periods of increased gun violence at schools.

The findings are particularly robust in that the effects are seen across several different economic indicators, and the relationship remains even when analyzing the data on national, regional, and city levels.

The researchers noted that the results of this study are in line with other evidence that joblessness is related to low self-esteem and detrimental behavior, that minors are responsive to the unemployment of their parents, and that the attitudes of youths have a significant impact on their future economic outcomes.

They further posited that “gun violence at schools is a response, in part, to the breakdown of the expectation that sustained participation in the educational system will improve economic opportunities and outcomes.”

This suggestion is profound in the context of the backgrounds of many individuals who commit violent attacks at schools and were either struggling to finish or failed to finish their educations, and had limited future economic opportunities.

For example, the Sandy Hook attacker was removed from high school by his parents due to sensory integration disorder, failed to obtain a degree after attending classes at Western Connecticut State University, and was unemployed without any likelihood of holding a job in the near future.

The Parkland attacker had been expelled from high school for disciplinary problems, was taking adult education classes to get his GED, and worked at a Dollar Store.

The Isla Vista attacker graduated high school but dropped out of a local college within a year and was investigated by local law enforcement because of concerns about the state of his mental health.

Tackling the Root Problems

Real solutions to problems start with facts, and the fact is that school shooters often share the same traits—traits that are not connected to or related to guns.

If we are going to get serious about school safety, we must soberly acknowledge the fact that mental illness, broken families, and economic insecurity all play a role in many, if not most, school shootings.

Addressing those societal ills, with proven strategies, will help reduce not only school shootings, but other violent acts by at-risk youth.


The well-paid career path that parents don't want their kids to take

Some figures from Australia

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Its an eternal question and often young people nominate practical, outdoors or active careers. Ask parents what they want for their children career-wise and answers will include rewarding – both financially and personally - with opportunities to progress and work-life balance.

A career in a trade can deliver all of this and more – working outside on challenging projects, earning good money and having the satisfaction of seeing your efforts contribute to society through much-needed infrastructure or housing and even ensuring people’s safety.

But I fear children are missing out on the opportunities offered by this career path due to societal misconceptions and parental bias towards university.

Government figures show apprentice numbers dropped 5.6 per cent over the year to September 2017, and the number of apprentices in training - at just under 262,000 compares with 443,000 in 2012.  There is some debate around the figures as the type of training that is counted as an apprenticeship has changed during that period, but it is a useful yardstick.

As well as having broad and adverse economic implications, this indicates to me that we’re limiting the opportunities we’re offering our young people.

There are many answers why apprentice numbers are dropping but there is one important factor that is rarely explored; the influence of parents, who don’t realise their hopes for their children can be achieved with a career in a trade.

I hear time and again that young people are being put off apprenticeships by well-meaning parents who want to see their children in traditionally well-paid and respected white-collar roles – lawyers, accountants, general managers etc.

This is especially true of the parents of young women, who often think a building site isn’t a place for their daughters.

We are the first to concede that more needs to be done by the profession to encourage young women to enter a career in the trades. But we need the support of parents. We want them to look at the benefits of a trade for their daughters and be open to the idea of them working on a construction site, delivering technical projects.

More broadly, we need parents to think about their child and the sort of career they’ll excel at rather than just assuming they need to go and get a university degree.

A quick look at the numbers explains why. NECA provides electrotechnology apprenticeship training, with around 90 per cent of our apprentices successfully completing their apprenticeship and almost all of them finding a well-paid job straight after graduation. This compares favourably to university graduates: only 71 per cent of graduates secure a job straight out of university. Fifteen per cent are still unemployed four years after graduating, and median starting salaries are just $54,000. And students are saddled with large debts with once they enter the workforce.

Add to this the opportunity to work outdoors on challenging projects, and establish and run your own business, and an electrical apprenticeship is even more compelling.

The electrotechnology industry is increasingly embracing initiatives that will help support and develop apprentices during their apprenticeship. For example, NECA has teamed up with the Federal government to run the Industry Specialist Mentoring for Australian Apprentices scheme.

Mentors are no longer the reserve of aspiring tech entrepreneurs or professional services firms, and ISMAA is connecting experienced tradespeople with apprentices, benefiting both parties.

It’s therefore not surprising Ms Hanson is advocating for more apprenticeships – it is an excellent career option. So, next time there’s a career discussion consider an apprenticeship; a career path which can fulfil parents’ and children’s ambitions.


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