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POLL: Support for school choice on the...

POLL: Support for school choice on the rise

By: Sarah Ulmer - July 18, 2023

Support for school choice programs rise nationally as more states adopt “universal choice.” Eligibility for choice programs in Mississippi remain limited.

In a recent national poll from RealClear Opinion Research, respondents indicated increased support for school choice.

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters from June 27 to June 30 of 2023 regarding the idea of school choice. Of those polled, 71% showed support of the concept of school choice while 13% were opposed.

The poll comes after more states implement or expand programs designed to allow students to pick their own education setting.

Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah have all passed programs that would allow almost all students the opportunity to use public funds designated for their education at the school of their choice, whether public or private. They join Arizona and West Virginia. Proponents refer to these policies as “universal choice.”

School choice advocates in eight other states, including Alabama, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wyoming, came up short of universal choice, but did expand the number of children who can participate in choice programs.

Support for these programs is strongest among Republicans, according to the poll with 80% of GOP voters voicing agreement. While support is lower among Democrats and Independents, it was still supported by majorities of 66% and 69%, respectively.

“School choice support is here to stay, and politicians who ignore this reality do so at their own peril. Parents are the new interest group in town, and legislators would be wise to keep responding to their needs,” said Tommy Schultz, CEO of American Federation for Children. “The days of the old one-size-fits-all model are numbered, welcome news for the countless students who need something different to learn and thrive. AFC is thrilled to continue standing behind parents as they gain more options for their children’s education.”

Individuals polled ranged in age from 18 to over 65. The largest amount of support came from those between the ages of 18-34 at 74%. African American voters were the largest group in support of school choice at 73% with White and Hispanic voters just behind at 71%.

Regionally, the Midwest polled the highest in support at 75%, followed by the Northeast at 74%, South at 72%, and West at 66%.

School choice options are available in Mississippi. Programs allow some eligible students to choose between traditional public schools, charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

The number of eligible students in Misssissippi is limited by various laws that restrict open enrollment in public schools, restrict charter schools to poorly performing districts, and restrict education scholarship accounts to special needs students.

Empower Mississippi, a public policy organization that works to identify and solve problems facing Mississippians, has long been a supporter of school choice.

“We’ve known for years that offering parents more options for their children’s education is popular among both Republicans and Democrats, and these results show that support is stronger than ever,” said Wil Ervin Senior Vice President for Empower. “Education freedom policies, such as education savings accounts, tuition tax credits, charter schools, and public school open enrollment give parents and students options and, in doing so, create more potential pathways to success.”

Ervin added that it is surprising more candidates in the current election cycle are not talking about education freedom in the state. He hopes the national momentum will impact lawmakers as they head into the 2024 Legislative session.

The Mississippi Association of Educators has long opposed efforts to expand school choice programs and have advocated for more investment in traditional public schools. MAE said the people they engage with in local communities still strongly believe in public school.

“We know that in Mississippi 90% of students attend public schools. MAE members, educators, and parents across the state that we engage with strongly believe in investing public funds in schools that serve all students and advocated for additional funding for public schools in the recent legislative session by sharing their testimonies,” said Antonio Castanon Luna, MAE Executive Director. “In many communities across the state, public schools serve as a vital community hub that brings families, neighbors, and friends together in support of our students.”

Luna added that MAE advocates for collaborative efforts among educators, community members, and elected officials in order to support students and public schools. He said MAE encourages well engaged school boards, legislators and community members in the public school system in hopes of ultimately bringing public schools to their full potential.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: