Skip Navigation

Research & Commentary: National Survey Shows Parents Want School Choice

December 14, 2017

55 Percent Think K-12 Education In U.S. Is On Wrong Track, 71 Percent Want ESAs

In December, EdChoice released the results of its fifth annual Schooling in America survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc. The survey questioned 1,000 adults spread across the country about their views on K–12 education issues.

The survey found 55 percent of Americans believe K–12 education in the United States is headed in the wrong direction, and just one-third said they would chose a neighborhood public school as their first choice for their child’s education. (This is especially notable when you consider almost 85 percent of all children in the United States attend a neighborhood public school.)

Seventy-one percent of respondents answered they were in favor of education savings accounts (ESAs). With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Parents then use a state-provided debit card to access the funds to pay for the resources chosen for their child’s unique educational program, such as tuition at a private or parochial school, tutoring, online classes, transportation, specialized therapies, textbooks, and even college courses while still in high school. Typically, unused ESA funds may be rolled over from year to year and can be saved to pay for future college expenses.

According to the EdChoice survey, support for ESAs is 76 percent among Millennials, 77 percent for those with incomes under $40,000 a year, 77 percent for blacks, and 81 percent for Hispanics. Further, 62 percent of respondents said they are in favor of school vouchers. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed also said they support tax-credit scholarships. (Tax-credit scholarship programs allow qualifying families to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as at a public school located outside of the student’s school district, using scholarships provided by donors, who, in return, receive tax credits.)

Not only are these school choice programs popular, they are also effective. In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and, according to the research, it does so at a lower cost. In addition, EdChoice found education choice also benefits public school students. 

“The results are not difficult to explain,” the authors of the study stated. “School choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources [and it] breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.”

Only 39 percent of 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders nationwide tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Just 35 percent of 4th graders and 33 percent of and 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show the nation’s public school systems are failing to educate nearly seven out of 10 of their 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics. It’s also noteworthy that not a single state managed to educate half of its students to a proficient level in all four categories examined. These results are unacceptable.  

The voices of everyday citizens are perfectly clear: They want school choice, and they want it now. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the opportunity to attend a quality school. Legislators would do well to remember this in 2018.

The following documents provide more information about school choice.

2017 Schooling in America: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent Experiences, School Choice, and the Role of the Federal Government
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-Schooling-In-America-by-Paul-DiPerna-Michael-Shaw-and-Andrew-D-Catt.pdf
This annual EdChoice survey, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/education-savings-accounts-the-future-of-school-choice-has-arrived
In this new Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/recalibrating-accountability-education-savings-accounts-as-vehicles-of-choice-and-innovation?source=policybot
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.

Surveying the Military: What America’s Servicemembers, Veterans, and Their Spouses Think About K–12 Education and the Profession
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Surveying-The-Military-by-Paul-DiPerna-Lindsey-M-Burke-and-Anne-Ryland-1.pdf
In this report, EdChoice share the results of a 2017 survey of 1,200 active-duty military servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses to help policymakers and the public better understand this important constituency’s perspective on K­–12 education, school choice policies, and the military profession.

Why Indiana Parents Choose: A Cross-Sector Survey of Parents’ Views in a Robust School Choice Environment
https://www.edchoice.org/research/indiana-parents-choose/
This survey developed by EdChoice and conducted by Hanover Research aims to measure what motivates parents from all sectors—private, public, and charter—to choose schools, as well as their awareness of school choice options, their satisfaction levels, and the goals they set for their children’s education.

The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation: Evidence from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-effects-of-statewide-private-school-choice-on-college-enrollment-and-graduation-evidence-from-the-florida-tax-credit-scholarship-program
This study from Urban Institute scholars Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn shows Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program boosted college enrollment for participating students by 15 percent, with students enrolled in the program for four or more years seeing a 46 percent hike.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.