Ray Carter | June 30, 2021

School-choice support soaring

Ray Carter

A new national poll shows strong and growing bipartisan nationwide support for school choice, including support for allowing parents to use taxpayer funds for private-school tuition.

In a recent release, the American Federation for Children said a June poll from RealClear Opinion Research found that 74 percent of registered voters support school choice and 66 percent support allowing some or all taxpayer funding set aside for K-12 education to be directed by parents.

“Public support for school choice is at an all-time high. And, as the nation recovers from unprecedented, nationwide school closures, a new story is unfolding. Parents are rising up and demanding the freedom to choose the best educational environment for their children,” said Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children, which advocates for increased school choice. “Thankfully, more and more lawmakers are listening. Already in 2021, seventeen states have passed legislation to improve, expand, or create new school choice programs.”

Oklahoma is among the 17 states to expand school-choice programs this year. Lawmakers approved an expansion of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program, which provides tax credits to those who donate to organizations that provide private-school scholarships. That change is expected to allow thousands of low-income students to attend private schools.

Schultz said such expansions will be life-changing across the country.

“For thousands of children, this means new opportunity and new hope for a brighter future,” Schultz said. “While we celebrate these transformative policy wins for kids, the work continues. We at AFC will continue fighting for every child in the country to have access to the American Dream through educational choice and opportunity.”

Those taking the poll were asked if they “support or oppose the concept of school choice—which gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.”

Seventy-four percent said they supported school choice as defined in that question.

A second question asked poll respondents, “On average, American taxpayers spend $15,946 per student nationwide on K-12 public education. Would you support giving parents a portion of those funds to use for home, virtual, or private education expenses?”

Sixty-six percent said they supported allowing taxpayer dollars to fund private-school expenses.

The American Federation for Children noted those results represent a marked increase in support for school choice since similar polling was conducted in April 2020. Overall support has increased from 64 percent to 74 percent. Support among public-school parents has surged from 68 percent to 80 percent, and support among Democrats has increased from 59 percent to 70 percent.

The RealClear Opinion Research poll was conducted from June 21 to 24 and involved 1,762 registered voters.

In addition to this year’s expansion of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program, Oklahoma has been a national leader in using a portion of federal COVID bailout funds for private-school tuition.

When the first round of COVID bailout funds was released in 2020, Gov. Kevin Stitt used $10 million to create a “Stay in School Fund” that paid the tuition of low-income students who were previously enrolled in private schools.

When the Stay in School program was first announced, officials expected that it would benefit more than 1,500 Oklahoma children with scholarships averaging $6,500 each. But a report released in January by the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission showed the program was able to serve 1,893 children at a cost of $5,132 per child. The lower per-pupil expenditure was due to private-school tuition often being less than anticipated, and scholarship amounts were far less than the per-pupil amount that would have been spent to educate those same students in a traditional public school.

Even with income restrictions placed on applications, demand far exceeded supply for tuition assistance. The commission report on the “Stay in School” fund noted that more than 15,000 students applied.

The report found 57 percent of Stay in School scholarship recipients were from families that qualify for the federal free-and-reduced lunch program—meaning a family of four with $48,470 or less in annual income—and more than one out of every five came from a home with income at 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) or less, meaning a family of four with $26,200 or less in annual income.

Recipients were from all parts of Oklahoma.

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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