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National poll shows tremendous support for school choice policies

National School Choice Week 2020 is off and running, and as hundreds of thousands of schools, organizations, students and school leaders celebrate educational freedom and opportunity, I thought it would be timely to share poll results that confirm national voter support for school choice as well.

For the sixth year in a row, the American Federation for Children conducted a national school choice poll that gauges voter support for the general concept of school choice and specific school choice proposals. The survey fielded responses from 1,275 likely November 2020 voters. John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children, issued the following statement:

“This national survey is the premier benchmark for school choice opinion research across the country, and voters have consistently stated that they support these policies and want more K-12 options for their children. We fundamentally believe that every family, especially lower-income families, should have the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their child—and the vast majority of Americans agree with us.

Sixty-nine percent of polled respondents (up from 67 percent last year and 63 percent in 2018) favor the concept of school choice, including 68 percent African Americans, 82 percent Latinos, and 71 percent Millennials. School choice was defined as “giv[ing] parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.”

Over half of respondents (58 percent), including a majority of Democratic primary voters (56 percent), said they were less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who wanted to eliminate all federal public charter school funding. Fifty-nine percent of Republican Primary respondents would be less likely to support such a candidate. Over half of African Americans (62 percent) and Latinos (65 percent) also stated they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s position on eliminating all federal public charter school funding.

But charter schools are not the only form of school choice. Support for the many other faces of expanded educational opportunity continues to trend upwards, and three school choice proposals in particular were backed by 80 percent or more of polled voters: Special Needs Scholarships, Active Military Scholarships, and Education Savings Accounts. See below for more individual school choice proposals and their support levels.

Only 47 percent of parents surveyed indicated they would prefer to send their child to a district public school, compared to 50 percent of parents who would prefer a different option. The option parents stated they would prefer is private school (41 percent) followed by public charter schools (7 percent) and home education (1 percent).

When parents with children currently attending public school were asked why they would prefer a different option, 52 percent listed a range of academic issues as the reason. Sixteen percent stated they preferred their child received a religious education, 14 percent listed cultural issues as the reason, and 8 percent said safety issues drive their desire for a different option outside of the current public school their child attends.

And parents are willing to make sacrifices to help their children access a different school. When asked “about the sacrifices parents were willing to make so their children could go to a private school for free or to a different public school,” respondents indicated they are willing to cut out all eating out or take-out from restaurants (49 percent), stop drinking coffee or caffeine for a year (48 percent), drive their child 25 miles each way to school (47 percent), move 10 miles away (39 percent), have their child ride the bus 45 minutes each way (37 percent), move to a much smaller home (34 percent), change jobs (31 percent), or sell their car (20 percent).

There is an appetite for expanded school choice that continues to grow across political and demographic groups. The Center’s Thinking Minnesota Poll has confirmed that to be true in Minnesota specifically too. Seventy-five percent of polled Minnesota voters support allowing students in low-performing public school districts to attend a public or private school of their choice instead of the school they are assigned.

As conversations surrounding education proposals continue, it is important for us to stay focused on education reform ideas that will better serve all our students and families. We know more spending is not the remedy to stagnant test scores and stubborn achievement gaps. We also know that protecting the status quo is not working either. Expanding school choice and protecting the education options that families already access is a must so students are not denied the learning environment that best sets them up for success.

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