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School choice advocates take issue with polling results

Left's demonization of charters may have depressed poll results, as support for vouchers remains high, advocates note

Support for school choice isn’t going away, although critics say otherwise.

While a poll by Education Next on education issues found a drop in public support for charter schools, support for school choice options, such as vouchers for low-income families, stayed the same and, in some cases, even grew.

Public support for charter schools dropped 12 percent between 2016 and 2017, but that’s not the whole story, school-choice advocacy groups say.

Education Next, a national journal of educational policy and reform, experimented with how questions were worded to guess individual reaction.

When phrased differently, the journal found a noticeable change in support with vouchers.

Fifty-five percent of the people polled said they favored tax-credit funded scholarships, but only 37 percent support education savings accounts.

The poll sampled more than 4,200 respondents, which included parents and teachers. Education Next also broke the data down according to race, political party affiliation, and levels of education for white Americans. The margin of error is 1.5 percent.

School-choice organizations such as the American Federation for Children and the Center for Education Reform are concerned the poll misleadingly suggests sagging support for school choice.

“Despite the wording of the questions, when looking across the board at the dominant forms of education choice options like charter schools, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships, this poll finds more support for these programs than opposition,” Greg Brock, the executive director of AFC argued.

Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform explains how the mixed public opinion toward charter schools may be the result of efforts by school choice opponents to demonize the word “charter.”

“To be sure, the strategy and tactics of charter opponents — relentlessly portraying the reform movement as rich, separatist corporatists who want to privatize our public schools — have had an impact,” Allen said. “And their inflammatory attacks continue to skew perceptions and warp the debate.”

The Education Next poll shows only 39 percent of the public support charter schools, 25 percent hold no opinion, and 36 percent are opposed, but Allen questions how much the public really understands about charter schools and other school choice initiatives.

Allen points to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs research poll conducted in April which shows 58 percent of respondents are largely unfamiliar with charter schools. Sixty-six percent of respondents say they know little or nothing about private-school vouchers.

Allen also criticizes a split in the charter school movement, where she says some have compromised by adopting charter school policies to avoid controversy and portray charter schools as being “public school-light.”

“That the tide of public opinion seems to have turned is a wake-up call, but it in no way suggests or signifies that we should slow down,” Allen argues. “On the contrary — doing what is right and just for the millions of students who are stuck in failing schools with no opportunity to participate in the future is a moral imperative.”

The opinions of families are what matter the most, says AFC.

“Along with our friends at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, we agree that families are demonstrating the true support for educational choice by virtue of 3.5 million students in publicly supported private school choice programs and charter schools around the country,” Brock said. “Today, millions more are demanding access to these options and they are counting on policymakers to deliver.”