Support for school choice remains strong after pandemic


Ray Carter | July 11, 2023

Support for school choice remains strong after pandemic

Ray Carter

The widespread and lengthy school shutdowns that occurred during the COVID pandemic, along with the severe learning loss caused by those public-school closures, generated a strong increase in public support for school-choice programs.

But once the pandemic ended and public schools returned to normal operations, some officials thought support for school-choice programs would return to pre-pandemic levels.

That hasn’t happened.

A new national poll shows that extremely high levels of public support for school-choice programs persist today among all demographic groups, and new state polling shows the same trend in Oklahoma.

“School choice support is here to stay, and politicians who ignore this reality do so at their own peril,” said Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children. “Parents are the new interest group in town, and legislators would be wise to keep responding to their needs. The days of the old one-size-fits-all model are numbered, welcome news for the countless students who need something different to learn and thrive. AFC is thrilled to continue standing behind parents as they gain more options for their children’s education.”

According to a new national poll from RealClear Opinion Research, which surveyed 1,000 registered voters from June 27-30, the concept of school choice enjoys overwhelming support (71% support versus 13% opposed).

The poll stated, “School choice 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. Generally speaking, would you say you support or oppose the concept of school choice?”

While Democrats were less likely to support school-choice programs than Republicans or independents, the poll found the overwhelming majority of respondents from all three groups support school choice. Two out of three Democrats—66%—support school choice, as do 80% of Republicans and 69% of independents.

The poll found 79% of those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election support school choice, but so do 67% of those who voted for Joe Biden.

“School choice support is here to stay, and politicians who ignore this reality do so at their own peril.” —Tommy Schultz

There was little variation among racial groups. The poll showed that 70% of Asians, 73% of black respondents, 71% of Hispanics, and 71% of white voters support school choice.

Rather than decline over time, the poll found that school-choice support has increased since a similar poll was conducted in April 2020, during the first and worst wave of COVID that resulted in school closures.

Since April 2020, overall support for school choice has increased from 64% to nearly 71% among all voters. Among Democrats, support for school choice has surged 7 percentage points during that time, while it has increased 5 percentage points among Republicans and 9 percentage points among independents.

Support has increased 8 points among Hispanics, 7 points among whites, 5 points among black respondents, and 14 points among Asians.

Nearly three out of four individuals ages 18-34 (a group including many with young children) were supportive, and 69% or more of respondents in all other age brackets support school choice.

Oklahoma Parents Support School Choice

Similar results have been found in Oklahoma-specific polling.

A rolling 12-month online poll sponsored by EdChoice and developed in cooperation with Morning Consult provides both national and state-specific information on school-choice support.

The EdChoice poll stated, “A school voucher system allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools. If this policy were adopted, tax dollars currently allocated to a school district would be allocated to parents in the form of a ‘school voucher’ to pay partial or full tuition for the child’s school. In general, what is your opinion of school vouchers?”

The latest EdChoice data, which includes responses from June 13-15, showed that 60% of Oklahoma adults and 69% percent of Oklahoma school parents support school vouchers.

Just 42% of Oklahoma school parents felt that “things in K–12 education are generally going in the right direction” statewide, and just 32% of all adults felt state schools are headed in the right direction.

Those low marks may be tied to significant declines in academic outcomes in Oklahoma public schools during the eight-year tenure of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, whose term ended in January 2023. During Hofmeister’s tenure, academic outcomes in Oklahoma fell, across the board, even as state spending on schools increased dramatically.

Thirty-six percent of Oklahoma parents in the EdChoice poll said their child was either receiving tutoring outside of school, the family was seeking a tutor, or the family expected to soon need to find a tutor.

Nationwide, the EdChoice poll found that 65% of private school parents said they were very satisfied with their child’s schooling experience, compared to just 46% of public-school parents.

The poll showed that most Oklahoma parents would prefer to send their child to a school other than the local public school district. The poll showed 32% would choose a private school, 12% would choose to homeschool, and 7% would choose a public charter school.

In response to public demand, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a massive school-choice program this year for which all families are eligible.

House Bill 1934 created the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act. The new law, which takes effect in less than six months at the start of 2024, provides refundable tax credits of $5,000 to $7,500 per child to cover the cost of private-school tuition.

Families earning below $75,000 qualify for a $7,500 tax credit. Those with incomes between $75,000 and $150,000 get a $7,000 credit, while those with income between $150,000 and $225,000 get a $6,500 credit. Those earning between $225,000 and $250,000 get a $6,000 credit, and families earning more than $250,000 get a $5,000 credit.

Families who choose to homeschool qualify for a tax credit equal to $1,000 per child under the plan.

In 2024, the private-school tax-credit program will be capped at $150 million. In 2025, the cap will increase to $200 million and in 2026 the cap rises to $250 million.

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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