School choice doesn’t have to be a partisan issue, and a new study suggests it most certainly is not.
Eighty-one percent of North Carolinians agree that parents should have a say as to where their child attends school, the Civitas Institute, a conservative advocacy group based in Raleigh, says in a new poll.
Bob Luebke, education policy analyst at Civitas, on Thursday presented the survey’s results to lawmakers, lobbyists, and policy analysts at a luncheon celebrating National School Choice Week.
North Carolina is a national leader in the school-choice movement, said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a co-host for the event.
“[This is about] parental school choice,” Allison told attendees. “I think that’s the key of what we’re looking at. Administrators have their place, policy people at the state level have their place, schools have their place, but we also want to make sure that we make a little bit of room, pull another chair up to the table, and make sure that parents are educated … and empowered to make sure that they’re part of that decision-making process for their children.”
The poll surveyed 811 voters ages 25 to 54, 44 percent of whom voted for President Donald Trump, and 41 percent of whom voted for Hillary Clinton. The poll was conducted Jan. 17-18 via landline phone, cellphone, and tablet, and has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would be “much more likely” to vote for a candidate who supports school choice. Twenty-seven percent were “somewhat more likely,” and 16 percent were less likely to vote for such a candidate.
When asked what letter grade they would assign traditional public schools, 5 percent of respondents gave an A, 28 percent a B, and 45 percent a C. The remaining 16 percent graded schools with a D or F.
The poll asked respondents to identify primary reasons for sending a child to a traditional public school. Thirty-four percent said other options are unaffordable, and 23 percent said their public schools are doing a good job. Nineteen percent said they are committed to public schools, and 7 percent said they have no other options.
The poll showed Democrats and Republicans are split by a narrow margin, with 87 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats supporting a parent’s right to choose their child’s education.
Breaking it down, 84 percent of African-Americans back school choice, compared with 70 percent of white respondents.
“These results confirm what we’ve long known to be true,” said Luebke. “Parents want access to the best educational options for their children. And they want the legislature to make policies that expand school choice. While programs like Opportunity Scholarships are a good start, we hope to see educational options expanded for children and parents in this legislative session.”
North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program recently came under fire from Gov. Roy Cooper, who says the program is a poor use of funds that should go to traditional public schools. U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos supports private school vouchers and charter schools. Teachers, unions and other proponents of traditional public schools have criticized DeVos and her positions on school reform.
For his part, Cooper said he doesn’t plan to fund the voucher program in his 2017 budget. Opportunity Scholarships aren’t likely to disappear, however, since program is by law guaranteed a total $145 million over the next 10 years.
Seventy-one percent of those polled said they favor or strongly favor Opportunity Scholarships. Twenty-nine percent opposed, strongly opposed, or had no opinion about the program.
Opportunity Scholarships give low-income students up to $4,200 a year for private school tuition and expenses. The program today serves about 5,300 students, a number set to reach a total 36,000 by 2027.
“When you go all across the state of North Carolina and you still see pockets, we have great traditional public schools out there doing some great work,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest told attendees at the luncheon. “We have some great charter schools. We have a lot of homeschool students. We have some great private schools. It’s a good mix. But parents have the opportunity to make that selection for themselves as to what best fits the needs of the child.”
“I think we’re in this really unique spot in America where all the perfect scores of education are coming together with online content and curriculum, with school choice options,” he added. “We’re in a place now where we’re going to really be able to put together a competency-based education system of school choice for our parents and our students out there.”