September 24, 2020
By Matt Beienburg
What do 72% of Democrats, 73% of independents, and 73% of Republicans all have in common? They support prioritizing students and families over bloated public school bureaucracies that fail to serve them.
As a brand new poll from RealClear Opinion Research and the American Federation for Children (AFC) found this week, an overwhelming majority of voters have announced that it’s finally time to break away from the status quo. Specifically, voters were asked to weigh in on the following:
“On average, American taxpayers spend $15,424 per student nationwide on K-12 public education. Would you support or oppose giving parents a portion of those funds to use for home, virtual, or private education if public schools do not reopen for in-person classes?”
A whopping 73% of voters said yes.
We’ve been hearing in recent days calls to blow up the Senate filibuster because politicians can’t agree on anything with more than the slimmest of majorities. And yet here we have nearly three quarters of Americans all uniting behind a policy idea that puts kids and their needs first.
Perhaps more astonishingly, this support isn’t confined to COVID contingency planning. The pollsters presented voters with a more open-ended option:
“School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Generally speaking, would you say you support or oppose the concept of school choice?”
Again, nearly 70% of all voters said yes. And even more significantly, the pollsters found, “for parents with kids in public schools, there’s been a ten point jump [since April] in support for the concept of school choice, from 67% to 77%.”
This should be profoundly eye-opening to lawmakers. Politicians poured $15 billion of extra money into public K-12 schools this year in response to the COVID pandemic. Yet union groups fought tooth and nail to block those funds from helping millions of families directly—families who couldn’t afford to wait for their public schools to reopen and who needed learning options and support for their children immediately. It’s time for that to change.
Of course, in states like Arizona, union activists continue calling for even more money for the status quo, ignoring student needs and instead pushing pet political projects like pay raises for non-teaching staff. Indeed, Arizona’s Proposition 208, for example, will appear on the ballot in November to raise taxes by nearly a billion dollars (vaulting Arizona into the one of the top 10 highest taxing states in the nation and costing over 100,000 lost jobs) without sending a single dollar to families being failed by the public school system. (It would also pledge just 13 cents of every extra dollar to actual classroom teachers in public schools.)
Given the messaging apparatus of the unions, there’s no doubt that initiatives like Prop 208 will continue to hold great allure in Arizona and elsewhere. Yet as the new polling data from Real Clear Opinion and AFC makes abundantly clear, numbered are the days in which public union bosses can continue blocking families from pursuing the best education possible just because it happens to operate outside union control.
Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also directs Goldwater’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.