Just in time for National School Choice Week, a new national poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans favor school choice. Hopefully, West Virginia lawmakers are listening.
The American Federation for Children’s Fifth Annual School Choice Survey polled 1,200 likely November 2020 voters and found that 67 percent support the concept of school choice, including 40 percent who “strongly” support it.
The survey was conducted by Beck Research, a respected Democratic polling firm whose previous clients include the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, and the parent organization of the West Virginia Education Association — both staunch opponents of school choice.
The survey results show strong and growing support for school choice across the political spectrum, including: Democrats, 56 percent, up two percentage points from last year; Independents, 69 percent, a seven percentage-point increase from last year; and Republicans, 80 percent, up 5 percentage points compared to last year.
More than two-thirds of white and African-American respondents support school choice (68 percent and 67 percent, respectively), increasing to 73 percent among Latinos and 75 percent among millennials.
The AFC survey findings also help shatter some prevailing myths about school choice support among targeted constituencies. For example, it is commonly assumed that school choice isn’t needed or wanted beyond inner-city areas, where the “really bad” schools are. Not so.
Strong and growing majorities of likely voters support school choice regardless of their locale, including respondents living in areas that are designated: large metro, 66 percent, a remarkable 10 percentage-point increase over last year; small metro, 69 percent, an impressive seven percentage-point increase; rural, 68 percent, up one percentage-point from last year; and suburban, 64 percent, which is unchanged from last year.
These results suggest that school choice isn’t just an escape hatch out of truly bad schools. It’s a pathway into schools that are better fits for students based on their unique individual needs.
Perhaps that’s why growing majorities of parents favor school choice. Fully 72 percent of parents overall support it, up from 64 percent last year, and 69 percent of public-school parents now favor school choice, compared to 63 percent last year
And what types of school choice do Americans favor most? A variety of private and public options garner strong support that has increased across the board between two and five percentage-points compared to last year, including: special-needs scholarships, 86 percent; scholarships for military dependents, 79 percent; education savings accounts, 78 percent; public charter schools, 74 percent; tax-credit scholarships, 68 percent; and virtual or online learning, 60 percent.
Other recent surveys show similar results. A national survey by EdChoice, for example, finds more than three out of five Americans favor educational savings accounts (74 percent); tax-credit scholarships (66 percent); and public charter schools (61 percent).
Another recent survey by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy reveals a stunning 80 percent of likely West Virginia voters rate the state’s education system as “fair” or “poor.” More than three out five of them (62 percent) also believe more parental choice would improve education in the Mountain State.
Not only do most voters favor school choice, the AFC survey found that three out of five are more likely to vote for elected officials who support expanding education options.
Commenting on the survey findings, John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children, observes, “Despite relentless attacks from opponents of educational freedom throughout the past year, school choice support has grown ... Most parents want a different option for their child and are willing to make sacrifices to go to a better school if they had the option. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and communities of color are all demanding greater choice in K-12 education. It’s time for policymakers to listen to these voters and pass legislation that gives more families the freedom to choose the best educational environment for their child.”
Education systems like West Virginia’s that largely ration options based on where a child’s parents can afford to live are a relic of a bygone era. Such systems cannot provide the personalized learning opportunities students need. Parents want, and their children deserve, educational options that are as unique as they are.
National School Choice Week celebrates those options and should inspire policymakers to expand educational opportunities for all students.