FILE - School library

New poll results released by the 12th annual Education Next (EdNext) survey of public opinion shows increased support for school choice nationwide.

The findings covered several categories including teacher pay, common core, charter schools and funding approaches. Two key topics showed increased support from previous years: school choice/ vouchers, and tax-credit scholarship programs.

A 54 percent majority supports “wider choice” for public-school parents by “allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.” This is a 9-point increase from last year. Opposition to vouchers also fell by six points. Approval for vouchers for low-income families remains at 43 percent approval.

The report states that the “unprecedented media attention” that school choice receives is due to the election and support of President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

At her 2017 confirmation hearing, DeVos said, “It’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve. Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof. Yet, too many parents are denied access to the full range of options . . . choices that many of us – here in this room – have exercised for our own children.”

According to EdChoice, an advocacy group in favor of school choice, 15 states have enacted 26 different voucher programs. Fewer than 200,000 students use them.

Nearly 50 million students are attending public school in 2018. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, over 3.2 million students, or fewer than 7 percent, attend one of 7,000 charter schools in 44 states that authorized them.

The poll asked respondents if they favored that “all [low-income] families with children in public schools a wider choice, by [vouchers] allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition. Would you support or oppose this proposal?”

When asked about “all” families (universal choice), the report notes that approval rose by 9 percentage points, increasing from 45 to 54 percent approving.

“This is good news. This number has been on the rise. It is consistent with what we have seen at state budget hearings and during candidate forums," Julie Underwood, the Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy & Practice at the University of Wisconsin, told Watchdog.org. "We know most people in Wisconsin understand that education is a crucial investment for our communities, our economy and our democracy.”

Disapproval for school choice fell from 37 percent to 31 percent. Increased support fell across party lines; both Republicans and Democrats approved of school choice. At the same time, the study notes, while charter enrollment has grown, school districts and teachers unions have increased their opposition.

When it comes to tax-credit scholarship programs, 57 percent of respondents favor “a tax credit for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools.”

Eighteen states have enacted tax-credit scholarship programs. Depending on state law, the program allows either or both individuals and corporations to donate to a foundation that provides scholarships to low-income children. Private schools tend to favor these programs, the study notes, because they “generally entail only limited state regulation of the schools.”

Taxpayers like the program, the study notes, “because the amount of money the state gives up in tax receipts is often less than the cost of educating a child in a public school. This form of school choice is so popular that proponents succeeded in persuading the legislature of deep-blue Illinois to enact a tax-credit program.”

"The tax credit scholarship programs created through the Illinois Invest in Kids Act provides an opportunity for a better life for disadvantaged students across Illinois," Adam Schuster, director of budget and tax research at Illinois Policy Institute, told Watchdog.org. "Equity in educational opportunity has been an issue in Illinois for years. This new program finally gives students from low-income families the chance to attend the same high-performing schools as students from wealthy homes.

“The best part is, it comes at no cost to the state. Despite claims from opponents of the scholarship program, all of the funds are private donations and taxpayers get to choose how to spend more of their own money on helping kids in need."

Mark LeBlond, senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, said that in Pennsylvania, bipartisan agreement affirms that a student’s educational quality “shouldn’t be determined by their zip code. This is why we’re seeing major school choice initiatives in blue states like Illinois and red states like Arizona.

“There’s a reason the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credit) scholarship program is supported by 76 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania. Businesses are incentivized to donate and become more active in their communities, schools are incentivized to offer the best product possible, and, most importantly, students and parents are rescued from educational systems that aren’t meeting their needs. The only drawback to these immensely popular programs is that the supply simply can’t keep up with the demand, and scholarship applications are being denied in Pennsylvania due to the program caps. The people have already decided these programs are vitally important. We just need the legislation to catch up.”

EdNext’s poll represents a sample of 4,601 adults nationwide, which includes an oversampling of parents, teachers, blacks and self-identifying Hispanics.