Democratic presidential candidates proposing “free” college and pay increases for teachers will find substantial backing for these policies among voters, but school vouchers and tax credits to fund scholarships to private schools are also popular, the 13th annual Education Next poll of American public opinion on education policy finds.
Support for raising teacher pay is higher now than at any point during the past decade, the Education Next poll finds. On school choice, Democrats are divided along racial and ethnic lines, with African Americans and Hispanics more likely to support charter schools and school vouchers. Tax-credit scholarships, along the lines proposed this year by the Trump administration, command bipartisan support.
This year’s Education Next poll also for the first time presents the views of high school students, who rate their high schools less favorably than their parents and are less likely to support measures to strengthen school security.
This year’s Education Next survey of more than 3,000 adults includes a nationally representative sample of adults and representative oversamples of teachers, African Americans, and Hispanics. Interactive graphics provide both 2019 findings and trends going back as far as 2007 on some questions. See the 2019 interactive graphic here and the trends interactive graphic is available here.
The 2019 Education Next Poll is available now at educationnext.org and will appear in the Winter 2020 issue of Education Next, available in print on November 18, 2019.
Among the key findings:
- Support grows for vouchers and tax credits. Public support for vouchers targeted to low-income families has jumped 12 percentage points since 2016, to 49% (41% opposed) from 37% (48% opposed). Republican support has jumped 13 percentage points to 44%, while opposition has fallen to 50% during the same time period. Democratic support has increased to 52% support today from 42% in 2016. Public support for vouchers that give all families a wider choice has increased to 55% today from 44% in 2016. Republican support for universal vouchers has gained 20 percentage points over the last four years, to 61% from 41%. Democratic support for universal vouchers has inched up to 52% with 40% opposed, compared to 49% and 39% in 2016. Tax credits to fund private-school scholarships are the most popular form of school choice, with 58% of the general public in favor (26% opposed) compared to 53% in favor (29% opposed) in 2016. Tax-credit scholarships enjoy bipartisan support, with 65% of Republicans and 56% Democrats in favor (22% and 29% opposed, respectively).
- Charter schools regain public support. Public support for charter schools has climbed back to 48% (39% opposed) from a low of 39% in 2017. These public schools of choice foster stronger opinions than in years past, as fewer respondents take a neutral position this year than in any year since we began asking this question in 2013. Sixty-one percent of Republicans support charters with 27% opposed, while only 40% of Democrats do (48% opposed).
- School choice divides the Democratic Party along racial and ethnic lines. African American Democrats support targeted school vouchers, universal vouchers, and charter schools at 70%, 60%, and 55%, respectively. Among Hispanic Democrats, support for the three policies is at 67%, 60%, and 47%. On the other hand, just 40% of non-Hispanic White Democrats support targeted vouchers, 46% support universal vouchers, and 33% support charter schools.
- Support for increasing teacher pay is higher now than at any point since 2008. Following last year’s 13-percentage-point surge in support for raising teacher pay, public support climbed another 7 percentage-points in 2019, to 56%. Support jumped among members of both political parties, to 64% this year from 59% in 2018 among Democrats, and to 43% from 38% among Republicans. When respondents are not first informed about the current average teacher salary in their state, support for raising teacher pay is even higher at 72%.
- Support for increasing per-pupil spending also matches all-time high. Among those not told current per-pupil spending levels in their local district, 62% think spending should increase, 8 percentage points higher than in 2017. Fifty percent of those told current spending levels favor an increase, up 11 percentage points since 2017.
- Free college is popular among most groups. Sixty percent of Americans support making public four-year colleges and 69% support making public two-year colleges free to attend. Democrats are especially supportive of free college (79%, 85%). Republicans, on the other hand, tend to oppose free-tuition for four-year colleges (35% support, 55% oppose) and are divided over free-tuition for two-year colleges (47% support, 47% oppose).
- Students less in favor than their parents of increased school security measures. Only about 40% of both parents and students are very or extremely confident that there is sufficient security against a shooting attack at the student’s school. However, students are less likely than parents to think that schools should take additional protective measures. Seventy-seven percent of parents, but only 63% of their children, would install metal detectors at every school. Similarly, 81% of parents, but only 73% of their high school students, would screen all students for severe emotional distress.
- Students have a lower opinion of their schools than their parents do. Seventy percent of parents give their local public schools an A or B grade, while 82% grade their child’s specific high school with an A or B. Among students, these proportions drop by 15 percentage points for local public schools and 13 percentage points for their own high school.
- Students more likely than parents to favor free college but take a more critical view of Common Core and testing. Students are more likely than their parents to want four-year public colleges to be tuition-free (77% vs. 68%), more supportive of increased government funding for local public schools (71% vs. 63%), less supportive than their parents of the Common Core State Standards (34% vs. 50%), and less likely than their parents to approve of federal annual testing requirements (52% vs. 75%).
Other findings include:
- Support greater for increasing federal than state and local spending on schools. Among those respondents not given the current fiscal breakdown of local, state, and federal support for the schools in their community, 60% say the federal government should spend more. When provided with the current spending breakdown, however, support for more federal spending increases: 67% of the general public think federal funding should increase, 50% support increased state funding, and only 36% support increased local funding.
- More Americans have a positive view of their local public schools than at any point since our survey began in 2007. Sixty percent of Americans assign their local public schools an A or B grade, a 9 percentage-point increase from last year. However, the gap between Americans’ evaluations of their local public schools and their evaluations of public schools nationwide has widened to 36 percentage points today from 20 percentage points roughly a decade ago, with only 24% of the general public giving public schools in the nation as a whole an A or B.
- Americans hold a much more positive view of the nation’s public and private four-year colleges and universities than the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools. More than twice as many Americans grade public four-year institutions nationwide with an A or B (58%) as they do public K–12 schools (24%). The nation’s private four-year colleges and universities draw even higher esteem, with 66% of the general public rating them with grades A or B. The share of Republicans who grade public four-year colleges across the country with an A or B is 17 percentage points lower than for Democrats, at 49% and 66% respectively.
The 2019 EdNext Poll also assesses public opinion on teachers unions and the right to strike, teacher tenure, annual testing, merit pay, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and more.
The 2019 poll gathered responses from a sample of 3,046 respondents including a nationally representative, stratified sample of adults (age 18 and older) in the United States as well as representative oversamples teachers (667), African Americans (597), and Hispanics (648). We also surveyed a sample of 415 parents of high school students as well as their oldest high school child. The poll was administered in May 2019.
About the Authors
Michael B. Henderson is an assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication and director of its Public Policy Research Lab. David Houston is a post-doctoral fellow at the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University. Paul E. Peterson is a professor of government at Harvard, director of PEPG, and senior editor of Education Next. Martin R. West is a professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, deputy director of PEPG, and editor-in-chief of Education Next.
About Education Next
Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.