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New study finds less suicide among students with education options

A new study suggests education options—school choice—improve children’s mental health, reports The Wall Street Journal. While other studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying, this latest study “is the first to examine the link between school choice and mental health,” continues the Journal.

The Cato Institute’s Corey DeAngelis and Western Carolina University economist Angela Dills analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades.

They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private school-voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers.

DeAngelis and Dills also found that students who attended private schools as teenagers were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition as adults.

“It’s likely that private schools face stronger competitive pressures to provide a safer school environment and improve mental health if they want to remain open,” Ms. Dills explains. “Public schools, on the other hand, are more likely to be burdened with government regulations that make it difficult for them to control discipline policy and create strong cultures.”

A report by the Child Mind Institute and the California Partners Project found that teens with mental health conditions are struggling with isolation from school closures, and even those without a mental health disorder are “experiencing symptoms and anxiety, depression, more inattention, more impulsivity.”

Before the coronavirus, “mental illness represented a growing problem among young adults,” writes the Journal. “Four times as many children ages five to 17 commit suicide in a typical year than have died of COVID-19.”

Teachers’ unions have pushed back against school reopening efforts, despite the plethora of research and data that has shown—and continues to show—closures harm children. And teachers’ unions have also opposed giving families access to expanded education options.

Our students deserve better, and school choice is once again proving to be the remedy. With the next legislative session upon us and National School Choice Week just around the corner (January 24-30), our state leaders should use this opportunity to push for meaningful education reform that will serve all Minnesota families. COVID-19 has confirmed and exacerbated the education disparities and shortcomings that have plagued our state for years. Let’s truly put kids first and help them access the learning environment that best meets their needs academically, socially, and mentally.

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