School Choice

Americans Voice Growing Support for School Choice

People also want more funds for public schools, but support drops when they're informed of current expenditures.


As the father of a kid who has attended a charter school, was homeschooled for five years, and is now enrolled at a private high school, I have an obvious enthusiasm for education options beyond what's offered by government schools. So, it pleases me to see that public support continues to grow for vouchers and tax credits that would help families pay tuition at independent schools, and for charter schools that enjoy a significant degree of independence while still being publicly funded.

Drawing on in-house polling, Harvard University's EducationNext finds steadily rising support for both education options and public schools. But the data comes with interesting caveats that suggest affection for government schooling and its minions takes a hit the more people know.

"Support for school vouchers has shifted upward," notes the organization, "and tax-credit scholarships along the lines proposed by the current administration now command the support of a sizable majority of adults."

Vouchers make per-pupil funding portable so that families can use the money to pay tuition at schools of their choice. EducationNext asked respondents about both targeted vouchers, intended for low-income families, and universal vouchers usable by anybody; pollsters found increasing enthusiasm for both. Targeted vouchers win the support of 49 percent of those polled, with 55 percent supporting vouchers that would benefit all kids.

Tax credits are a bit different, allowing individuals and/or corporations to write off donations to foundations that provide scholarships to students who attend private schools. One advantage of tax credits is that the money remains entirely in private hands, reducing government leverage over independent schools so that they can focus on pleasing families and not bureaucrats.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled approve of such tax credits. That follows on similar trends in last year's poll, indicating a seeming national movement toward support for education options.

Charter schools also enjoy strong approval, with support up to 48 percent. Yet these publicly funded, privately managed schools remain victims of the country's political polarization.

"For more than two decades after the first charter school opened its doors in Minnesota in 1992, charters seemed to be the one choice initiative backed by Democrats and Republicans alike," points out EducationNext. But with Democratic candidates, teachers unions, and some progressive organizations rallying against charters, support has plummeted on the political left. "Republicans are as committed as ever to charter schools… Simultaneously, Democrats have backed away from charter schools."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strongest support for education options comes from racial and ethnic minority families who often have the most experience with poor quality government schools. "Large pluralities of black and Hispanic Democrats support targeted vouchers, universal vouchers, and charter schools, while less than half of white Democrats support vouchers and less than a third support charters," reports EducationNext.

Personal experience and deeper knowledge certainly play a role in people's eagerness to support government-run institutions, too. That is, the more familiar they are with the details of public schools, the more skepticism they voice.

For starters, the teachers unions' #RedForEd national push for higher pay seems to have had a big impact on public opinion. Among the general public, 72 percent support higher pay—up significantly since 2017. But that drops to 56 percent when respondents are told what teachers currently earn.

"The higher level of endorsement for boosting teacher salaries among the 'uninformed' respondents reflects the fact that most Americans believe that teachers are underpaid and earn far less than they actually do," says EducationNext. "When asked to estimate average teacher salaries in their state, respondents' average guess came in at $41,987—30% less than the actual average of $59,581 among our sample of educators."

Likewise, "public support for higher levels of school spending has also grown over the past two years." And again, that seems to be largely a function of uninformed assumptions about the level of existing funding.

"Among those not told current levels of expenditure, 62% think K–12 spending should increase, 8 percentage points higher than in 2017," notes EducationNext. But that number drops to 50 percent among those informed of current funding levels.

For what it's worth, per-pupil spending in public schools increased for five years in a row (as of the latest Census Bureau figures), to an average of $12,201 per student in 2017. Expenditures increased by 3.7 percent from 2016 to 2017, compared to an inflation rate of 2.1 percent.

Information also affects perceptions of school quality. Just as minority families who have good reason to be disappointed in public schools voice strong support for education options, those who actually attend public schools express lower opinions of them:

Seventy percent of parents give their local public schools an A or B grade, and 82% assign their child's high school those marks. Among students, these proportions drop by 15 percentage points for the local public schools and 13 percentage points for their own high school.

Real-life experience leaves quite a mark.

Speaking of which, my family has considerable real-life experience with homeschooling, which was included in EducationNext polling only in 2017. I'm happy to say that this option also won approval. "Forty-five percent of respondents support the home-schooling option, with just 34% opposed," the organization reported.

That said, a majority did want homeschoolers to seek school district approval, which would put us under the thumbs of our competitors. No, thanks.

My family has chosen its independent education path because we are familiar with the public system, aren't impressed, and don't require either its services or its permission. But we're also fortunate in that we have the will and the resources to opt out and choose appropriate education options for our family. And obviously, we're not alone in looking for alternatives. As the EducationNext polling numbers show, Americans are ready to expand the range of options available to many more families so they, too, can choose education options that work for their kids.

NEXT: The Media Claimed Andy Ngo Was Complicit in a Far-Right Attack on Antifa. But the Video Doesn’t Support That.

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  1. Like Kamala Harris has explained, the most important way to improve our education system is to re-introduce forced busing for racial integration.


  2. Democrats are losing on this issue. Democrats losing on a LOT of issues. They act like the white affluent liberal college kid demographic can see them through the next two decades of elections. Hah.

    Blacks may not be voting Republican, but they are also staying home on election day because they know Democrats aren’t on their side. A moderate party could clean house in this country if one ever got off the ground.

    1. When you have time, listen to the podcast I linked below. Birbalsingh found that when she went to talk to communities about education options, there would be a black mother asking questions and showing great interest in her programs, and an affluent white woman would start screaming at her about racism and dead white men.

      1. Living the the hyper-progressive and hand-wringing California bay area, it’s amazing how utterly out of touch proggies are with the common people. For a group that poses as the justice seeking woke, they are clueless when it comes to poor people of color.

        1. That’s been a criticism of Leftism since the days when Marx was still alive.

    2. There is a moderate party. It’s called the Republican Party.

      1. No, it’s called Independents Who Don’t Vote.

    3. They’ve been talking about a moderate party for 30 years, and all it led to was Perot.

  3. But who will make certain that your children have developed the right attitudes about life and politics if they are not under State supervision? True diversity does not include allowing for the wrong ideas.

    1. Parody has become impossible.

    1. Oh, and how they need to teach children about dead white men culture. Can’t forget about that.

      1. It’s not “white men culture”, it’s Western Civilization. The reason it’s taught is that is the culture we live in. And it’s the culture that also happened to give us enlightenment and progress. No other culture has done that. The closest would be ancient China, but it unfortunately got mired down in a stifling bureaucracy for several centuries. Arab culture started to, but it got waylaid by a religious fundamentalism predicated on conformity of thought.

        That does not mean other cultures don’t have stuff to teach us, but it does mean that we are where we are today due to cultural influences that got their start in Mediterranean Europe.

        1. Arab culture started to, but it got waylaid by a religious fundamentalism predicated on conformity of thought.

          And Mongols. Don’t forget the Mongols.

          1. Weren’t the Mongols Libertarians?

            1. Soft of?

              1. Sort of, that is 🙁

      2. “dead white men culture.”

        You mean like Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and other wonderful, kind and beneficent socialists?

  4. See the article on kids and socialism if you want to see the results of gov’t schools.

    1. feature not bug

  5. As the father of a kid who has attended a charter school, was homeschooled for five years, and is now enrolled at a private high school, I have an obvious enthusiasm for education options beyond what’s offered by government schools.

    When the American Federation of Teachers has J.D. killed, is it ironic that there’ll be a chalk outline?

  6. the teachers unions’ #RedForEd national push

    Too easy.

  7. People also want more funds for public schools, but support drops when they’re informed of current expenditures.

    In my experience, it drops even more when you point out that the worst performing public schools are among those that have the highest per-pupil expenditure.

  8. In a world where choices become more and more available, progressives want us to accept one size fits all policies. If we forced people to a public option on cable TV, we’d have riots.

    1. Bad example. In much of the country, there is in fact only one cable provider.

    2. And yet a good number of people want a one-size-fits-all model on something much more important….

  9. But…but…but…if all the little people get school choice, then they wouldn’t need school boards, incompetent teachers and a lot of unnecessary and expensive staff.
    Plus, all the little people would save billions of dollars in tax money.
    Then where would the American public education establishment be?
    Out getting real jobs where they would have to actually work for a living, get their own retirement plans and healthcare.
    Oh, the horror of it all!

    1. In my experience, they couldn’t hack real jobs. In the real world you must produce.

      1. Their lack of the real world is astounding. I had a teacher friend give me the “it’s impossible to evaluate teachers for performance-based pay.” Less than three minutes later he mentioned this great teacher who won teacher of the year. I asked how anyone could tell he was great. It went over his head.

  10. Be careful what you wish for. Experience shows that government funding is followed by government control.

    “We can’t have charter schools/voucher-supported schools excluding Blacks/Latinos/LGBTQ/”
    “We can’t have charter/voucher schools teaching ‘Intelligent Design'”
    and then, after a while,
    “Charter/voucher schools have to admit students with disabilies, just like public schools.”
    And that will include those with mental disabilities that make them unable to refrain from disrupting class for other students.

    And after a while, the charter and voucher and tax-credit-supported schools will be just as burdened with rules as the public schools are today.

    1. Barry Gold, charter schools already follow those rules. Charter schools are public schools.

      You are sadly misinformed if you think charter schools are a haven for RAK phantoms.

  11. One of the most pointless exercises in all of politics is championing polls that suggest Americans support one thing or another. It doesn’t matter at all (assuming the polls are even an accurate approximation of where voters stand on a topic) what people would support in some abstract setting. It only matters what motivates the vote they will make. People have always tended to vote for candidates under totality of circumstances that oppose all sorts of positions they personally hold.

    So what is the point of this type of nonsense? 9 out of 10 people support blah blah blah and then promptly vote for candidates that do the exact opposite. Because most people aren’t single or even two issue voters. They vote for tribe.

  12. 1992 first charter school?! Charter schools go back to colonial time!

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