School Choice matters to independent voters & American parents

Independent Center Contributor Gabriel Mitchell

American education policy matters a lot. It’s one of the main means we invest in future generations, thus investing in the future of the United States itself. Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen a massive increase in voter dissatisfaction with our national k-12 education system. According to Gallup in 2023 63% of surveyed Americans were either somewhat dissatisfied or completely dissatisfied. 

This dissatisfaction has been capitalized on by advocates of school choice, a catch-all term for a range of policies that allow for increased choice by families when selecting where students learn. Often the term is used to describe policies that emphasize voucher programs that allocate funds for a student to attend schools outside of the standard public education system.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major influence on the frustration families feel towards the American education system. The year 2021 saw one of the largest relative increases in charter enrollment numbers. School Choice advocate Betsy Devos suggests the reason for this may be because “Parents had a front row seat to see what was happening in their child’s or children’s education world. Whether it was in their living room or kitchen, they saw on the screen what was or wasn’t happening. And many of them were very unhappy with what they discovered.” 

Our research at the Independent Center corroborates this narrative of rising support for school choice. You can review our survey data by signing up to receive it here

We asked American voters “Which of the following do you believe would make our educational system more effective?” and gave them 3 options to pick from. Across nearly every demographic we see American voters prefer school choice. Specifically, 48% of voters picked “reforming education to give parents vouchers to choose public or private options.” Only 39% of voters picked the option of “growing and investing more in government-run public schools”. The remaining 13% advocated for “eliminating public schools and providing funding to parents to select whatever private options they want.”

Of course like any other policy subject, its support varies based on the demographic. For example, when we control for political affiliation we find Democrat voters are far less likely to support school choice. 50% of Democrat voters support the option to invest more in the public school system, while only 36% support the option of reforming education to give parents vouchers. These numbers essentially flip for Republican and Independent voters. Only 28% of R voters and 39% of I voters support investing in the public school system. 56% of R voters and 50% of I voters support reforming in favor of voucher programs.

Unsurprisingly school choice seems to be a winning policy position in state elections. According to Ed Choice, “In 2023, lawmakers in 40 states debated 111 educational choice bills—79 percent of which related to education savings accounts.” Especially among Republicans, it seems accepting school choice is often necessary to be considered at all as a political figure on the local level. In a recent election in Texas, 10 of the 16 GOP state representatives who opposed school choice now find their positions in jeopardy. According to Professor of Economics and political commentator Alexander Salter, “The results are clear: Texas Republicans want school choice, and they’re happy to vote out politicians who don’t.”

However, it is important to note that for the coming national election school choice does not seem to be a primary priority for voters. We asked them “Of the following, what would you say is the most pressing issue in America today?” Education was tied in last place among voters with only 2% of them saying it was the most pressing issue. Across virtually every demographic Economic concerns and Immigration remain the highest priorities. 

The American public education system has lost favor among voters. According to our research, most Americans want school choice. While it is not a high priority for the upcoming federal election, politicians should still be wary of its impact on the local stage. Will they listen to voters’ demands? Only time will tell.

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