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Poll Results Backing Choice Run Counter to Earlier Surveys

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A majority of Americans support school choice, including the idea of providing tax-funded scholarships for poor parents to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools, according to a poll released last week.

Results of the poll commissioned by the Center for Education Reform differ sharply from those of two recent surveys released by Phi Delta Kappa and the National Education Association. Those surveys found a majority opposed to public funding for private school tuition, though the PDK/Gallup Poll showed an increase in support for the idea. ("Support for Private School Vouchers Is on the Increase, Gallup Poll Reports," Sept. 4, 1996.)

As with many previous polls on the controversial subject, the divergent results may stem from the way the questions were phrased, experts said last week.

"You've got a public struggling with two different things that they hold very dear--choice and support for public schools--so that explains the bounces that we've seen in response," said Karlyn Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in polling data.

International Communications Research of Media, Pa., conducted the CER poll. The telephone survey of 1,017 individuals represents a cross-section of Americans, and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

It found that 86 percent of those surveyed "strongly" or "somewhat" support "providing parents with the option of sending their children to the school of their choice--either public, private, or parochial--rather than only to the school to which they are assigned."

Eleven percent answered that they opposed the idea, and 3 percent said they didn't know.

Unlike the earlier polls, the CER survey did not specify that public funds would be used to support such choice.

Earlier Polls Differ

The PDK/Gallup Poll asked whether respondents approved of "allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense."

The NEA survey asked whether "tax dollars should be used to assist parents who send their children to private, parochial, or religious schools" or "to improve public schools."

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