At last week's kickoff event for the EdChoice Kentucky coalition, we shared data from a recent poll indicating that Kentuckians are strongly in favor of school choice policies. Read more on the EdChoice website.
EdChoice commissioned research firm Public Opinion Strategies to conduct the poll of 500 Kentucky voters over a 3 day period this summer. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.38%.
I've long suspected that support for school choice was much deeper than media coverage of the topic reveals, but I was still astonished by the results.
First, there was widespread agreement that public education is in need of reform in Kentucky. Across genders, political parties, and geographical regions of the state, an average of 57% of respondents agreed that education is "on the wrong track," with less than a third agreeing it is "on the right track."
Obviously problems in education can't be fixed with a single policy idea. But Kentuckians do seem to recognize that when a child's school is not meeting his or her needs, there should be additional options available. Low- and middle-income families should have the same opportunities as the affluent for accessing high-quality schools.
School choice policies are based on the idea that education is a public good, and the tax dollars allocated for education should be of primary benefit to the child. Instead of doling out money to school districts, all or some portion of the educational benefit should follow the child to the school of his or her family's choice. Overwhelmingly, Kentuckians seem to agree. Polling data showed that 70% of respondents agreed with the concept of educational choice (47% strongly agreed), with only about a quarter opposed. This was true across all polling groups. Even a majority of teachers (58%) supported school choice.
This is encouraging because school choice works. Research shows that children who take advantage of school choice policies tend to outperform their peers in traditionally-assigned schools. Meanwhile, when school choice policies are introduced, traditional public schools tend to improve because a new environment of competition usually spurs innovation and positive change.
And concerns that school choice leads to social fragmentation also appear unfounded. Research shows that school choice encourages greater levels of integration within schools of choice, and that students educated in non-public schools actually have higher levels of social tolerance and civic engagement than their peers in traditional public schools.
Scholarship tax credits are an increasingly popular school choice policy, in part because they rely entirely on private donations to give families more education options. A tuition tax credit encourages more donations to scholarship programs that help low- and middle-income children attend the school of their choice.
In the poll 73% of Kentuckians across all demographic groups supported scholarship tax credits, with 47% strongly favoring the concept and only 11% opposed.
Policy makers and members of the media need to take note of these numbers. School choice is no silver bullet that will fix all the problems in education. But among the many mechanisms we have for improving student learning, giving all families more schooling options is one that can make a big difference, and one that Kentuckians support.