Teachers Unions are Out of Touch on School Choice

A recently released poll by Education Next finds widespread—and growing—support for school choice in America. Moreover, this support crosses racial and party lines.

Pennsylvania’s two types of school choice—charter schools and tax credit scholarships—were both featured in the poll. Charter schools are supported by 48% of respondents, continuing an upward trend in recent years. A plurality of white, black, and Hispanic respondents, as well as parents, indicated support for charter schools. When informed that charter schools serve significant numbers of black and Hispanic children, support grew among most subgroups.

Graphic: Charter School Poll Results

Pennsylvania lawmakers might want to consider this broad base of support as they evaluate and react to Governor Wolf’s plan to cut charter school funding, limit charter school enrollment, and ban new cyber charter schools. Parents won’t give up their ability to choose their children’s school without a fight.

Tax credit scholarships, like Pa.’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, enjoyed even stronger support in the EdNext poll. This support—including 56% of Democrats—stands in stark contrast to Wolf’s veto of House Bill 800, which could have helped thousands of kids get off scholarship waitlists and attend their desired school.

Graphic: Tax Credit Scholarship Poll Results

Perhaps the most exciting result of the polling is the support for universal school choice. This could include education scholarship accounts (ESAs), which have been introduced in various forms in Pennsylvania. By funding students instead of systems, universal choice would allow all families to choose the school that is best for their children. Interestingly, even a majority of Democrats polled support this policy.

Graphic: Universal Choice Poll Results

These graphs show a clear and consistent outlier: a solid majority of unionized public school teachers oppose every option. While teachers’ unions typically couch their opposition to school choice in terms of funding and accountability, the facts say otherwise.

When it comes to funding, each of these school choice options actually save money because their per-student costs are significantly lower, leaving districts with more funds per student.

The accountability argument, meanwhile, exposes extreme paternalism. Wealthy parents have always had options when it comes to education—and no one ever frets that the schools they choose are unaccountable or aren’t doing a good job. That’s because it’s common sense that parents will seek the best option for their kids, and they’ll leave if that choice isn’t performing.

With charter schools, tax credit scholarships, and ESAs, low-income parents now have a say in how and where their children are educated. They can no longer be consigned to underperforming or unsafe schools just based on where they live. But teachers’ unions and their ally Wolf apparently don’t trust low-income parents to make their own choices.

The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to school choice, and it’s not likely to go back in. Parents want—and deserve—a say in their children’s education. And the general public largely supports them. Politicians who want to deny families educational opportunities, including charter schools, are clearly swimming against the tide.