School Choice Gets Fake Boost after EdNext Poll

 Contributed by Amara Willey.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been crowing about her Education Freedom Scholarships after the release of the latest Education Next poll. Announced on Aug. 20, the poll results indicate widespread support for charter schools. DeVos is using these results to justify the school choice scholarships hatched by her department.

More than 60 percent of Republicans support charter schools while just 27 percent oppose them. For Democrats, 40 percent support charter schools, with 47 percent of Hispanic Democrats, 55 percent of African American Democrats, and 33 percent of white Democrats favoring them. 

According to the National Alliance of Charter Schools, these results are misleading because charter schools are public schools – they cannot charge tuition or hold religious activities. The Education Freedom Scholarships are not supportive of charter schools, but rather of private schools and other alternative school choices, which did not change substantially in the poll. Among Democrats, support for universal vouchers has risen only 3% since last year.

While not mandatory for states to participate in the program, Education Freedom Scholarships are privately funded by businesses and individuals in exchange for a tax credit and can be used for diverse K-12 educational purposes, which will be determined at the state level. Some of the ways it could be used include concurrent and dual enrollment, career and technical education, tutoring, certifications, and private school tuition. 

The good news in the face of DeVos’ fake news about the poll is its mandate for “free college” and higher teacher pay. The bad news is how support for school choice in the Democratic party follows a racial divide. African-American Democrats support targeted school vouchers, universal vouchers, and charter schools at 70%, 64%, and 55%, respectively. Among Hispanic Democrats, support for the three policies is at 67%, 60%, and 47%. On the other hand, just 40% of non-Hispanic white Democrats support targeted vouchers, 46% support universal vouchers, and 33% support charter schools, as reported by GlobeNewswire.

The argument in favor of school vouchers for low income students concerns the quality of education available to them in the public schools. Many families believe their children will receive a better and safer education at a private school using a school voucher, which is partially why this argument is drawn along racial lines. However, as funds are diverted from public schools, it will be more difficult to increase the quality of education there, starting a downward spiral.

Interestingly, the poll finds that more Americans have a positive view of public schools now than they did anytime after 2007, which will help public schools keep students and therefore tax dollars. 

DeVos has claimed that no federal dollars are going into these scholarships, which is technically true, as they will be funded by private individuals and businesses. Nevertheless, the Freedom Scholarship program will cost taxpayers an estimated $5 billion in lost revenue due to the tax incentives.                                                 


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