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Trump Has Hurt Support for School Choice, But It Remains Popular, Survey Finds

By Alyson Klein — May 04, 2018 2 min read
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and President Donald Trump tour St. Andrew Catholic School on March 3, in Orlando, Fla.
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Support for school choice dipped after President Donald Trump’s first year in office, but remains strong in general, according to survey results discussed Thursday at a conference here.

Overall, 63 percent of those surveyed by Beck Research LLC, a political research organization, said they support school choice in general, and 33 percent were opposed to it. That’s a decline from a poll taken in 2016 before Trump embraced the policy, when school choice received support from 70 percent of those surveyed, with just 24 percent opposed.

The conference was put on by the American Federation for Children. The federation, which advocates for school choice, was founded and formerly chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The poll was commissioned by AFC.

So what’s behind the dip? In a word, there’s been a bit of a Trump effect, said Deborah Beck, the president and founder of Beck Research. The president made school choice a focus of his first state-of-the-union address, and DeVos is a long-time supporter. But he has yet to enact a far-reaching choice initiative that benefits low-income students.

“It’s been a tough year but there’s still a strong majority of support for school choice. What’s increased is the strong opposition to school choice. That has ticked up a little bit,” Beck said. In particular, she said, there’s been an uptick in opposition among college-educated women and suburban women.

“They’re still supportive, but we’ve lost some support because there’s Donald Trump’s name” is associated with the policy, said Beck, a Democrat who is personally supportive of choie. “In a year or two, if things have changed, that could change as well. ... We’re weathering the storm. They threw everything they had at us and the kitchen sink” and the policy still has strong backing, in her view.

The survey also found an uptick in support for education savings accounts, which are typically paid for with public funds and which parents can use for a range of things including private school tuition, tutoring, and dual-enrollment programs. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed support ESAs, up from 69 percent last year and 65 percent in 2016.

The survey also found support for a federal tax-credit scholarship, which DeVos pitched behind the scenes last year, but was unable to get into the Republicans’ tax-overhaul bill. Two-thirds of those surveyed support the idea of a federal tax-credit scholarship, which would offer a tax break to individuals and corporations who donate to organizations that grant scholarships, typically to low-income students, for private-school tuition.

And the survey found support for vouchers for military families, an idea backed by DeVos. More than 75 percent of respondents favored the policy, while just 20 percent were opposed.

The data is based on a survey conducted January 8-13 of this year, among a total of 1,100 likely November 2018 voters. That included a representative sample of 800 likely voters, plus 200 additional likely Latino voters and 100 additional Millennials, defined in the poll as likely voters born after 1981. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

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