Public support for education choice continues to surge as some presidential candidates swim upstream

Patrick R. Gibbons

While the reasons for Democratic presidential candidate and leading anti-charter stalwart Elizabeth Warren’s nearly 13-point polling plummet are multifaceted, a recent public confrontation with school choice supporters and the revelation that she sent her son to a $17,000-a-year private school likely contributed to the decline.

Warren’s strong anti-school choice stance probably isn’t working in her favor if education choice polls are any indication. A RealClear Opinion Research survey conducted this fall reported that 68 percent of Americans now support the concept of school choice.

The poll, sponsored by the American Federation for Children, included 2,014 registered voters. Forty-two percent identified as Democratic, 31 percent as Republican, and 28 percent as Independent.

Fully 70 percent of respondents said they support a federal tax credit scholarship program similar to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administered by Step Up For Students (which hosts this blog) that serves more than 100,000 lower-income students.

According to the American Federation for Children, the strongest support for a tax credit scholarship – 74 percent – came from respondents 45 to 54 years old. Meanwhile, 71 percent of black voters, the highest level of any racial demographic, were supportive. Latino voters also showed strong support with 69 percent favoring school choice.

In terms of political party, about 76 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats supported school choice options overall.

While 53 percent of respondents said they currently send their children to district-run public schools, given a choice, 70 percent would choose another educational option; 39 percent specifically identified their first choice as a private school.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union and most vocal opponent of school choice vouchers and charter schools, has yet to endorse a presidential candidate for 2020. Though the union is expected to contribute millions of dollars to the presidential campaign, it remains to be seen if its endorsed candidate will be able to maintain an anti-education choice stance given public sentiment in favor of it, compounded by the fact that several swing states including Arizona and Florida have large education choice populations.

Other swing states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, have large charter school populations, and Pennsylvania also offers tax credit scholarships to thousands of lower- and middle-income students.

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