Report: Support for school choice continues to rise, especially among black, Hispanic Democrats

An Education Next report on public opinion about education issues published by the Harvard Kennedy School found that support for school choice continues to climb, especially on vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. It also found that the growing support for school choice exists primarily among black and Hispanic Democrats.

Blacks and Hispanics, regardless of party affiliation, are more likely to support charter schools and school vouchers, the report found. Tax-credit scholarships proposed by the Trump administration also received overwhelming bipartisan support, identified as the most popular form of school choice options.

Education Next, a scholarly journal, is published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The report’s key authors include Michael B. Henderson, assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication; David Houston, post-doctoral fellow at the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG), Harvard University; Paul E. Peterson, professor of government at Harvard and senior editor of Education Next; Martin R. West, professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education and editor-in-chief of Education Next.

Education Next’s 13th annual poll found that public support for school choice grew in all areas.

“Proposals to give more families the opportunity to send their child to a private school have gained support from Republicans since President Trump took office without losing support among Democrats,” Marty West, editor-in-chief of Education Next, co-author of the poll, and professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, told The Center Square. “The latter finding is surprising and reflects the enduring popularity of the voucher concept among black and Hispanic Americans. Forging alliances at the state level between Republican legislators and Democrats representing communities of color remains the most viable path to political success for proponents of school choice.”

Support for vouchers targeting low-income families increased by 12 percent since 2016. Republican support increased by 13 percent, with opposition also falling during the same time period. Democratic support also increased to 52 percent from 42 percent in 2016.

Republican support for universal vouchers increased 20 percent over the last four years, up from 41 percent to 61 percent. Democratic support for universal vouchers increased to 52 percent from 49 percent in 2016.

The most popular form of school choice respondents identified was tax credits to fund private-school scholarships, with 58 percent of the general public supporting them. That’s up from 53 percent in 2016, with 26 percent opposed. Tax-credit scholarships also received bipartisan support, with 65 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats in favor.

“Education Next’s polling confirms what we’ve been seeing for some time in Pennsylvania,” Marc LeBlond, senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, told The Center Square.

“Education choice benefits all students, particularly minorities and low-income families, who are more likely to be trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs. Seventy-six percent of likely Pennsylvania voters favored the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, with 83 percent support in Philadelphia – the poorest big city in America. Schools like Gesu School and Logos Academy are closing the achievement gap among these underserved populations thanks to tax credit scholarships. But with thousands of students denied scholarship opportunities each year, and over 150,000 at-risk youth, the need for education choice expansion in Pennsylvania is more urgent than ever.”

Public support for charter schools also climbed to 48 percent from a low of 39 percent in 2017.

“These public schools of choice foster stronger opinions than in years past, as fewer respondents take a neutral position this year than in any year since we began asking this question in 2013,” the authors of the report state.

Among party lines, 61 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats support charter schools.

School choice divides the Democratic Party along racial and ethnic lines, the report found. Black Democrats overwhelmingly support targeted school vouchers (70 percent), universal vouchers (64 percent), and charter schools (54 percent).

Among Hispanic Democrats, 67 percent support targeted school vouchers, 58 percent support universal vouchers, and 58 percent support charter schools.

Compared to these groups, only 40 percent of non-Hispanic White Democrats support targeted vouchers, 46 percent support universal vouchers, and 30 percent support charter schools.

The 2019 EdNext Poll also assessed public opinion on teachers unions and the right to strike, teacher tenure, annual testing, merit pay, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, among other issues.

This article was first published by The Center Square.

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