Would the discovery that, every day, nearly 6 million youths in America are immersed in abusive environments create a shock wave and a call to action?

That is, in essence, the finding of a report recently released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University: The public outcry remains to be heard.

The results of two concurrent surveys, each of 1,000 students aged 12 through 17, revealed that 27 percent of those in public schools reported that their schools were infected with both gangs and drugs. As would be expected, youths in such schools were far more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and tobacco.

Alarmingly, the current numbers reflect a substantial rise in the presence of drugs in schools in recent years. One in three middle-school students reported that drugs are used, kept, or sold at their schools (nearly a 40 percent rise from 2009) and, among high-school students, 66 percent said their schools were drug-infected (compared to 51 percent in 2006).

Fortunately, an escape hatch exists. The CASA survey also revealed a vast difference between the environments of public and private schools. For example, while 46 percent of teens in public schools reported gang activity, only 2 percent in private and religious schools did. Likewise, 78 percent of youths in private schools can pursue their studies in a drug-free environment, compared to just 43 percent of their counterparts in public schools (a gap that has more than doubled in the past 10 years).

Currently, a number of states and the District of Columbia have incorporated vouchers and tax credits to empower parents to send their children to the private schools of their choice. While continued funding for the D.C. school voucher program hangs in the balance, there’s hope that Members of Congress—38 percent of whom have at one point sent a child to private school—will extend that opportunity to low-income youths in our nation’s capital as well. The tragic scenario portrayed in the CASA survey should serve as a clarion call to other states to provide America’s young people with the hope and opportunity that access to safe and effective schools can provide.