The Presidential Candidates Should Listen to Voters

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As we enter the election season, our attention turns to the voices of voters and the choices they make. In determining their choices, voters must weigh many issues—not only in importance, but how their preferences are represented by the various candidates. We know that education is top of mind for many, and even more so for Democrats, but we know less about current voter preferences on more complex issues within education. With the release of their annual school choice poll, the American Federation for Children (AFC) sought to address one of the more salient topics in education—school choice.   

School choice encompasses a range of policies and has been a part of American education long before the term was coined. While private schools are the type of choice that likely comes to mind for most, the ability to choose one’s school through housing decisions has long been a tool used by affluent families to seek out the best educational opportunities for their children. To address disparities in accessing choice, more recent school choice policies—such as charter schools, scholarships, and vouchers—have sought to provide options to less affluent families. The AFC poll shows that voters support these policies. Overall, more than two-thirds of likely voters say they support school choice. Though there are some differences, this support holds along racial, generational, and party lines, with no group dropping below a majority in favor of school choice.

More specifically to charter schools, the report shows they remain favorable to many voters with 70% of voters supporting charter schools and only 26% in opposition. Additionally, a majority of voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who wanted to eliminate all federal public charter school funding. This opposition is particularly pronounced among African-American and Latino voters and even holds with Democratic primary voters. Perhaps more telling is that only 11% of Democratic primary voters would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported the elimination of all federal public charter school funding.

Half of the parents surveyed suggested that they would like a different option other than the district public school their child currently attends. When given the opportunity, people choose schools for their children for a variety of reasons, though parents indicated that academic issues were the top reason. The biggest draws for charter schools were academic quality and the ability to focus on students’ strengths. This is an important distinction as charter schools provide relief from the one-size-fits-all approach often seen in traditional district schools.

There is no doubt that charter schools faced one of their most difficult years in the popular press. However, despite some shoddy research, calls for moratoriums, and political pandering, the lived experiences of families searching for options in the education of their children are what’s influencing their opinions. Rather than trying to influence voters about what’s right and wrong for them and their children’s education, politicians should start listening.

Nathan Barrett, Ph.D., is the senior director of research and evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Comments

January 30, 2020 - 11:26pm
Rikki Hatfield

Excellent post! I just completed a mixed-methods case study in North Carolina. The charter school enrollment continues to grow in North Carolina and I decided to study the contributing factors influencing parents to leave traditional public schools and choose a charter school. As parents arm themselves with information, they become more influential stakeholders in the educational policies. While charter schools continue to be the center of the political debates, politicians may want to review statistical data before they are quick to push for the abolishment of charter schools. North Carolina is on track to have 200 approved charters by 2021.

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