Elected officials can’t ignore reality on school choice

Few issues in politics are clear-cut, but it’s increasingly obvious that school choice is one of them. Despite the ugly debates around the topic, the data don’t lie. New polling we released last week shows this picture yet again – and is a gut check to politicians who might be determined to ignore what their voters want. 

According to a new national survey conducted by OnMessage, Inc., there is overwhelming support for school choice across all demographics and political parties. For instance, 80 percent of independent voters agreed that “parents should have the right to choose the school that is best for their child, rather than being forced to attend failing or unsafe schools based solely on where they live.”  Notably, Democratic support for education freedom and customizable learning topped 70 percent. 

These numbers shouldn’t be a surprise. Parents want more choice after the last two years harmed students. Testscores are down throughout the nation. Student absenteeism is up. Study after study shows that student depression and anxiety rose  dramatically during the pandemic. All students have suffered, but the impact on vulnerable communities has been especially severe. For instance, new literacy scores in Washington, DC, show that while white student proficiency went from 73 percent to 70 percent during the pandemic, the number of Black student meeting benchmarks dropped from 44 percent to 28 percent, while Latino students went from 42 percent to 30 percent. 

Parents have noticed – and they are fed up. Seventy-five percent of all voters believe that “parents should be in charge of decisions regarding their child’s education. It is not fair that only wealthy parents truly get to decide where their child goes to school.” 86 percent of Republican voters support this point of view, as do 83 percent of African Americans and 77 percent of Hispanics.   

What’s more, 74 percent of Independents, 70 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of African Americans also agree with that statement, according to the poll

The movement for education freedom is growing across the country, but elected leaders aren’t always listening. Recently, Republican leaders in states like Utah and Georgia have joined hands with the unions and worked to block choice programs. These numbers make it clear that no elected official should ignore the calls for more parent choice – for Republican leaders to ignore a whopping 86 percent of their voters is a grave mistake at best. 

School choice works. Today, more than 600,000 students across our country attend a private school of their choice through state government programs. Study after study has shown that school choice programs generate higher graduation rates and increase academic improvement for not only the program participants but also the students that stay in public schools. Research also shows that choice programs save taxpayers money, reduce racial segregation and put kids in safer schools

Over the last few years, state policymakers have heeded the call and passed a historic number of programs. In 2021 alone, 22 states passed legislation to create, expand, or improve educational choice programs. As a result, more than a million families may get access to school choice programs this year. 

Still, state leaders should not think their work is done – and neither should federal representatives. Policies like federal education scholarship tax credits and education savings accounts enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support with voters and would help millions of kids find better opportunities in the public, private or technical trade school of their choice. 

Legislative leaders in the states who are currently hampering or blocking school choice should know that they are acting in clear contradiction of their voters’ wishes – and their voters are watching. 

American parents want school choice, and they want it now more than ever before. Lawmakers seeking to empower parents and enact true educational reform should act accordingly. 

Luke Messer is president of Invest in Education Coalition and served in Congress from the state of Indiana. Tommy Schultz is the CEO of the American Federation for Children. 

Tags Education school choice school choice support rising

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