Ray Carter | March 10, 2022

Anti-school-choice groups’ poll contradicted—by own pollster

Ray Carter

A group of public-school entities, including one whose national affiliate called for parents to be investigated under federal anti-terrorism laws, has released a poll claiming the overwhelming majority of Oklahoma voters oppose school choice.

But that finding is contradicted by their own pollster’s previous findings—twice.

The Oklahoma Education Coalition, whose member groups include teachers’ unions and school administrators, announced that it paid the Tarrance Group to conduct a poll of 600 likely Oklahoma voters from Feb. 28 to March 3.

The poll asked respondents, “Do you favor or oppose using taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition?” The poll showed that 61 percent of voters were opposed and just 33 percent were in support.

That finding is contradicted by numerous polls conducted in Oklahoma in recent years—including two other polls conducted by the Tarrance Group.

A January 2015 poll conducted by the Tarrance Group for then-Gov. Mary Fallin asked, “Do you favor or oppose educational choice, which is giving parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with the education of their children to send their children to the public or private school of their choice?”

In that Tarrance Group poll, 64 percent of Oklahoma voters supported school choice and just 33 percent were opposed—almost the mirror opposite of the results generated when the company was working for anti-school-choice clients.

Similarly, a Tarrance Group survey of 600 Republican primary voters, conducted in June 2014 for the Oklahoma Federation for Children, showed that 64 percent of Oklahoma Republican primary voters supported creation of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) that allow parents to use their child’s per-pupil allocation for a range of education services, including private school tuition. Just 26 percent of Republican primary voters were opposed.

The Tarrance Group’s 2014 findings are almost the opposite of the polling it did for anti-school-choice groups this year. The Tarrance Group’s poll for the Oklahoma Education Coalition claimed 59 percent of Oklahoma Republican voters oppose ESA-style school-choice programs.

However, when the 2014 poll of Oklahoma Republican voters was released, Brian Nienaber, a vice president at The Tarrance Group said, “Education is often a difficult issue for Republican candidates. This data offers valuable guidance that embracing educational choices and embracing flexibility for parents on how to fund the education of their children are broadly popular concepts among Republican voters.”

The Oklahoma Education Coalition’s poll is also in stark contrast with numerous other polls, conducted over a span of years, that have consistently shown strong support for school choice in Oklahoma.

Most recently, a poll of 500 registered Oklahoma voters conducted by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates on Jan. 10 and from Jan. 17 to 21 on behalf of the American Federation for Children found strong support for school choice.

The poll described school choice as giving parents “the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which better serves their needs.”

Based on that description, 65 percent of all respondents said they favor school choice with 43 percent strongly in favor. Support was even stronger among Republican voters with 78 percent favoring school choice.

“On the whole, Oklahoma Republican primary voters are more supportive of school choice than say they are pro-life,” wrote Pat McFerron, president of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates (CHS).

Polls of Oklahoma voters have consistently found strong support for school-choice policies in recent years with support steadily increasing over time.

Polls showing support for school-choice policies include a Braun Research survey in January 2014, a SoonerPoll survey in January 2015, a CHS survey in December 2015, a SoonerPoll survey in January 2016, a SoonerPoll survey in July 2016, a Cor Strategies survey in August 2017, a Cor Strategies survey in May 2018, a WPA Intelligence survey in January 2019, a WPA Intelligence survey in April 2019, a Cor Strategies survey in August 2019, an Amber Integrated survey in December 2019, and a Cor Strategies survey in August 2020.

The Oklahoma Education Coalition poll quickly drew criticism from other pollsters, who indicated the wording of the poll was designed to generate a specific outcome rather than measure actual voter attitudes.

“This baseline question is really bizarre,” McFerron wrote in a tweet. “Replace ‘private school tuition’ with ‘private health care’ you would get the same response, yet voters support letting people take Medicare and SoonerCare vouchers to the hospital of their choice.”

Trevor Smith, chief research officer at pollster WPA Intelligence, similarly tweeted, “Actually, 74% of likely voters support School Freedom. But sure, use the opponents’ false phrasing to a bill and call that a poll.”

The members of the Oklahoma Education Coalition include the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, Oklahoma City Public Schools, Oklahoma Parents and Teachers Association, Oklahoma State School Boards Association, Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools, Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, Tulsa Public Schools, United Suburban Schools Association, and Oklahoma Association for Career and Technology Education.

The Oklahoma Education Association and Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association are both teachers’ unions. The OEA’s associate executive director for the Center of Legislative and Political Organizing recently complained that lawmakers were listening to parents on education issues, saying “the only contact legislators were receiving was coming from angry parents who were frustrated with what was happening in schools.” To counter parent voices, she said the OEA would be transporting its supporters to the Oklahoma Capitol during this year’s session.

In addition, a symposium sponsored by the OEA in 2021 dismissed concerns about COVID-related student-learning loss as “completely centered in whiteness.”

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association remains a member of the National School Boards Association, which in September 2021 declared that parent protests at school-board meetings “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and called for them to be investigated under federal terrorism law.

While state school boards associations in other states quickly condemned that request and withdrew from the NSBA, the OSSBA has not been among them.

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts are among the worst in the state, based on academic outcomes. In the Oklahoma City district, 90 percent of students are performing below grade level, according to state testing results. In the Tulsa district, 89 percent of students are below grade level.

The Oklahoma Parents and Teachers Association previously opposed legislation that made it illegal to teach students that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”

A former member of both the Oklahoma Parents and Teachers Association and the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (PLAC) has described the groups as dominated by teachers’ union officials and complained that parents were not consulted before the organizations took public positions on legislation.

In the past, PLAC has opposed proposals such as tax credits to reduce teachers’ out-of-pocket health insurance costs, improve school security, and support adoption, but thrown its support behind a House Democratic caucus budget plan that called for enacting hundreds of millions in tax increases in 2019 despite the state having a $570 million surplus at the time.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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