Polls Show Solid Support for School Choice

Polls Show Solid Support for School Choice
June 1, 2005

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)

Despite the efforts of teacher unions and their allies to portray voucher supporters as extremists whose ideas are out of touch with mainstream America, the results of recent public opinion polls taken in three different states show solid support for parental choice proposals among voters in Arizona, Texas, and Indiana.

In Arizona, support for school choice is overwhelming, with more than nine of 10 (91.4 percent) likely voters surveyed in late March saying they favored one or more of the five school choice proposals considered by the legislature this spring. Almost two-thirds (65.6 percent) declared themselves “strongly” in favor of one or more of the proposals.

“In spite of the misinformation propagated by opponents, school choice resonates deeply with the Arizona public, and they have spoken with their support of every single school choice proposal before the Arizona legislature this session,” Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice, said in a statement released by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation on April 8.

AZ Voters

The survey, conducted on 602 likely Arizona voters by Margaret Kenski of Arizona Opinion, found respondents identified K-12 education as the most important issue the government should address by more than a 2-1 margin, with 40.9 percent of respondents choosing K-12 education over health care (16.9 percent), crime/drugs (14.6 percent), rapid growth (9.6 percent), higher education (7.1 percent), and other issues. The survey was sponsored by the Friedman Foundation and released jointly in April with the Goldwater Institute and Alliance for School Choice.



Support Grows with Information

When asked about improving public education by allowing parents to use some of a school district’s tax dollars to help them send their children to the public, private, or religious school of their choice, a majority of voters (51.7 percent) favored the parental choice option, versus 45.5 percent who did not. The school choice approach was particularly favored among the 18-29 age group (65.3 percent) and Hispanics (63.8 percent).

After hearing about five specific proposals being considered by the Arizona legislature this spring--two tax credit scholarship bills and three voucher bills--support for school choice jumped sharply, with 71.4 percent of respondents favorably disposed toward at least one of the three voucher proposals, and 91.4 percent supporting one or more of the five proposals.



Universal Choice Preferred

Respondents indicated a preference for universal parental choice programs that would expand school choice for all parents over programs targeting specific groups such as low-income, special-needs, or underperforming students.

Support

“The data show that the current efforts to expand educational options in Arizona are wildly popular,” said Robert C. Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation. “These results, which fall in line with numerous other surveys around the country, clearly show that Arizonans want greater educational freedom.”

The survey also showed voters were more likely to support candidates who advocated school choice. For state legislative candidates, 38.9 percent of voters said they would be more likely to support a school choice advocate, versus 21.3 percent who said they would be less likely. For gubernatorial candidates, the figures were 39 percent more likely versus 23.6 percent less likely.

“These results give policymakers a clear picture of the depth of support for school choice,” said Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.



Most Texas Hispanics Want Choice

In a late February-early March poll of about 1,000 Hispanic voters in five Texas counties, more than 70 percent of respondents favored a statewide school choice program, with 75.8 percent supporting a pilot program that would allow students in the state’s largest inner-city school districts to enroll at a private school with tuition paid by a taxpayer-funded voucher. Cities in the five counties included Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

The poll, conducted for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (CREO) by the state’s leading Democratic survey research firm, Montgomery and Associates, also found the pilot voucher proposal was favored by three-quarters (75.6 percent) of Hispanic Democrats.

“When 76 percent of Democrats favor school choice, it’s time for our elected officials in Austin to listen to their constituents and to implement a pilot program,” said Marcela Garcini, Texas parent coordinator for Hispanic CREO.

Rebeca Nieves Huffman, president and CEO of Hispanic CREO, described the poll results as “stunning,” particularly in light of the frequent characterization of the voucher movement as “right-wing” and “Republican.”



Support Crosses Party Boundaries

Additional findings from the survey include:

  • Respondents strongly favored school choice for targeted populations such as special-education students (88 percent support), low-income children (83.5 percent support), children who are victims of at-school violence (83 percent support), and dropouts (63 percent support).
  • 66 percent of respondents said the overall quality of education received by low-income, inner-city Latinos in Texas public schools was either fair or poor.
  • 35.8 percent of respondents believe Texas public school teachers have lower expectations for inner-city Hispanic students than they do for other students.

“Hispanics enthusiastically support school choice, regardless of their political party affiliation,” said Huffman, noting also that for poll numbers to approach 90 percent “is almost unheard of.

“This poll shows the pent-up demand for school choice and the depth of its support,” Huffman added.



Majority of Hoosiers Back Vouchers

This April, while Indiana House Republicans were joining Democrats to block passage of a voucher bill, the Indianapolis Star released a poll showing a majority of Hoosiers (55 percent) favored the idea of the state giving families access to tax dollars to help them transfer their children from failing public schools to the school of their choice, be it public, private, or parochial.

The voucher plan would have targeted families that make less than $66,000 a year and whose public schools had failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals under the No Child Left Behind Act for three consecutive years. Those families would be eligible to receive a $3,000 scholarship, or voucher, per child to use for tuition at a private school.

A parallel plan would have provided tax credits of up to $3,000 a year for parents who already send their children to private schools. The bill was amended in the House to reduce the available credit to just $1,000 a year.

Other poll findings included:

  • Support for school choice was stronger in younger respondents, with two-thirds of respondents under age 35 supporting school vouchers, compared to only 39 percent of respondents aged 65 or older.
  • Catholics supported school vouchers more than Protestants (61 percent compared to 54 percent).
  • Republicans supported school vouchers more than Democrats (58 percent compared to 48 percent).

The poll was conducted in late March by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa for the Star and WTHR-TV Channel 13 using a sample of 1,003 Hoosiers.


George A. Clowes (clowesga@aol.com) is associate editor of School Reform News.


For more information ...

The Arizona survey is available online at http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/AZpoll.pdf.

George A. Clowes

George Clowes is a Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding... (read full bio)