Ray Carter | September 23, 2020

With schools closed, school-choice support surges

Ray Carter

With several large Oklahoma schools remaining closed for in-person instruction, parental opposition to school closures has become more vocal as parents sign petitions and hold protests.

A new national poll indicates Oklahoma parents are not alone as support for school-choice policies has surged nationwide amidst school shutdowns.

The American Federation for Children, which advocates for the adoption of increased school choice for families, announced that a RealClear Opinion Research survey of 2,020 registered voters, conducted from August 19 to 21, shows supermajorities now support policies and programs that allow parents to choose from a wide array of schools. Support was broad across all parties and age groups with no significant divide between urban, suburban, and rural voters.

The polling also showed strong support for state leaders like Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt who have used a portion of federal COVID-19 funding to help students obtain educational services or attend private schools.

“The inflexibility of our K-12 system is on full display, leaving families to scramble as the special interests that have controlled our public education system for generations continue to oppose giving families and students greater educational choice.” —John Schilling

“This polling data shows one of the most astounding short-term jumps in support for educational choice policies,” said John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children. “Clearly, families are incredibly frustrated at the district schools’ response to this crisis and are tired of the months and months of fumbles. The inflexibility of our K-12 system is on full display, leaving families to scramble as the special interests that have controlled our public education system for generations continue to oppose giving families and students greater educational choice.

“It could not be more clear that families are desperate for other options and will support governors and other policymakers as they pursue policies that let them control their child’s education funding,” Schilling continued. “We urge these policymakers to give families flexibility, relief, and support by providing more opportunities for them to choose the best K-12 educational environment for their son or daughter.”

The poll asked registered voters, “On average, American taxpayers spend $15,424 per student nationwide on K-12 public education. Would you support or oppose giving parents a portion of those funds to use for home, virtual, or private education if public schools do not reopen for in-person classes?”

Eighty percent of families with children in public school supported allowing the use of taxpayer funds for private-school tuition when public schools do not reopen.

Seventy-three percent of all voters supported allowing parents to use taxpayer funding for private school when public schools do not reopen. That was a 10 percentage-point increase since the same question was asked in a RealClear poll conducted in April.

Support for letting parents use taxpayer funds for private schools if local schools do not reopen stood at 71 percent or higher in every racial category. The poll found 72 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans supported school choice in that situation. It also found 74 percent of both urban and rural voters supported school choice when local schools do not reopen for in-person instruction, while support among suburban voters was only slightly lower—73 percent—and support stood at 70 percent among voters living in small towns.

Those findings are similar to state-level polling conducted in Oklahoma by Cor Strategies on behalf of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. That state poll of 630 active likely Oklahoma voters, conducted from Aug. 10 to 13, found 63 percent of Oklahoma voters support using taxpayer funds for private-school tuition when a local school district “decides not to hold classes in person.”

The RealClear Opinion Research survey also asked voters if they support generally giving 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.” Overall, 69 percent of voters supported broad school choice, including 77 percent of families with children in public school.

Supermajority support was again found in all categories of voters, regardless of age, race, or partisan affiliation, and there was little difference in responses in rural, small town, suburban, or urban areas.

A third question on the RealClear Opinion Research survey asked voters if they support governors who have used federal funding to increase school choice. The question notes, “Some governors have let families control the funds for the purchase of education technology and materials, private school tuition, and home education.”

Overall, 67 percent of voters supported those efforts, including 78 percent of families with children in public schools. Supermajority support was seen among all racial groups and there was almost no difference between the responses of Democrats and Republicans with both parties favoring those efforts.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is among the leaders who have allotted a share of federal funding for school choice measures like those described in the RealClear Opinion Research survey. Stitt has earmarked $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding for his “Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet” program, which provides grants to low-income families to purchase curriculum content, tutoring services, and technology, and allotted $10 million for his “Stay in School” program, which is expected to provide more than 1,500 lower-income Oklahoma families up to $6,500 apiece to pay for private-school tuition.

While parents are increasingly vocal in their support of school reopening and increased school choice, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has been one of the most vocal opponents on both fronts. The OEA has previously suggested in-person instruction is a threat to teachers who “want to stay alive.” And OEA President Alicia Priest has declared, “Many teachers and staff face an impossible choice: Put themselves and their families at risk or leave the work they love.”

However, a recent study from Scotland noted that children “are relatively protected” from COVID-19 for reasons that are still not fully understood. The study “examined whether sharing a household with young children” reduced COVID-19 infection and severity among adults.

The study found, “Compared to those in households without children, the risk of COVID-19 requiring hospitalisation was lower in those with one child and lower still in those with two or more children.”

“We found that among a cohort of over 300,000 adults living in a household containing a healthcare worker in Scotland, the risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was lower for individuals living with young children (0-11 years), and that this persisted after adjusting for potential confounding variables,” the report’s authors write. “Risk of hospitalisation for COVID-19 (our primary outcome) was similarly lower for those living with young children, although this finding did not reach statistical significance.”

The report notes other research has found “that children rarely tested positive for SARS-CoV-2” and that when children do get the virus, there are “low rates of secondary cases, particularly in non-household settings, consistent with minimal or no transmission from children to adults.”

“Although we were mainly concerned with testing the hypothesis that contact with children might exert a protective effect in a high-risk population (healthcare workers), our study is also consistent with the findings that children do not pose a substantial risk of infection to adults with whom they share a household,” the authors continued.

An abstract notes that the report’s findings “have important implications for the lives of children, not least in terms of schooling.”

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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