The silent majority of Americans want school choice
One way of reading the 2022 midterm elections—which resulted in narrow majorities in a divided Congress—is that our divided electorate actually bunches toward the middle. Ticket-splitters abounded in swing states across the country, revealing a thirst for common ground.
Educational choice emerged this year as one common-ground issue where the election results are catching up to the polling.
Simply put, school choice has support from a silent majority of Americans. Our polling at EdChoice consistently shows school choice is popular with rural and urban communities, among every ethnic and racial group and by both teachers and parents. It resonates strongly across different generations and education levels. And, critically, for electoral politics, school choice has bipartisan support.
Voters desperately want to coalesce around areas of agreement, and school choice checks all the boxes.
The EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker, in partnership with Morning Consult, paints a consistent, clear picture of the bipartisan desire for school choice. In the August edition of EdChoice’s Public Opinion Tracker, we found the majority of Republicans and Democrats supported education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers and charter schools. ESAs, perhaps surprisingly, garner support from Democrats at a higher rate than Republicans. ESAs allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. We see this trend often in our monthly Public Opinion Tracker polls and in our 2022 Schooling in America report, which found 77 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans support ESAs.
It’s not just our polling, either. Results from the 2022 Education Next Survey revealed more of the same trend. Democrats support school choice programs like vouchers and tax credit scholarships at 50 percent and 64 percent, respectively. At the same time, 49 percent of Republicans support vouchers while 59 percent support tax credit scholarships. The bipartisan support for school choice is no fluke.
The elections in November clearly spelled it out. While the 2022 midterms were not especially glamorous for the Republican Party as a whole, candidates that prioritized education and fought for educational choice were rewarded. For example, Joe Lombardo of Nevada campaigned on the promise to expand school choice initiatives in his state. Lombardo successfully defeated the Democratic incumbent and flipped the governor’s mansion back to the GOP, the only governor’s race the Republican Party managed to flip these midterms. State superintendent races mirrored these results. Ellen Weaver from South Carolina, another staunch school choice believer who won her race handily, told parents “help is on the way” in her victory speech. Perhaps not coincidentally, states like Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma that expanded their existing school choice policies in 2021 saw vast Republican success in the 2022 midterm elections.
But in a sign of shifting political winds, two prominent Democrats signaled their support for school choice and won gubernatorial elections. Josh Shapiro, of Pennsylvania, and Illinois’ JB Pritzker embraced the data and endorsed private school choice in their states before winning their elections rather easily. While those within the school choice movement may have been shocked to see such high-level Democratic support, it shows the two candidates were savvy enough to see that school choice programs are a bipartisan, winning formula.
The harsh reality of the educational choice movement is this: Affluent families in our country have always had options when the district-assigned schools fall short for their kids. We shouldn’t think it’s out of bounds for parents of all incomes to expect better access to more educational opportunities for their kids, too.
The powerful support for school choice across countless demographic groups exists because of this reality. Politicians from both parties acknowledged this fact and succeeded in part because of it. This is one of the key messages political leaders should take away from the 2022 midterms.
Providing a more equitable education landscape and giving parents of all income levels and backgrounds more opportunities to help their child grow and succeed is not just a winning political platform, it is the common ground that we desperately need as Americans.
Families know it, and now politicians on both sides of the aisle do, too.
Colyn Ritter is Research assistant at Ed Choice.
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