Poll Finds Americans Split Over Public Funding of Private Education

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Americans are closely divided in their opinions on public funding for private education, a new poll suggests, with their stated views showing some variation depending on how the options are phrased.

In the 30th edition of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools, 50 percent of respondents were opposed when asked if they favored allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.

But only 45 percent were opposed when asked if they would favor allowing parents to send their children to "any public, private, or church-related school" with the government paying "all or part of the tuition"; 51 percent responded favorably.

The annual poll includes a special focus on public funding for private and church-related schools and for the first time used the word "vouchers" in a few questions.

ResultsIn last year's poll, 52 percent of respondents were opposed to using public funds to pay for nonpublic schools--essentially no different from this year's response, given the poll's margin of error of 4 percentage points. The proportion of respondents who favor allowing parents and students to choose private schools at public expense remained at 44 percent; 6 percent responded "don't know," up from 4 percent last year.

Last year, 48 percent of respondents were opposed to allowing parents to send their children to any public or private school with the government paying all of the tuition; 49 percent were in favor.

"The findings appear to guarantee that the issue of public funding for church-related schools will be a battleground for the foreseeable future," Lowell C. Rose, one of the report's authors, says in a news release accompanying the report.

The poll, released at a news conference here late last month, showed some surprising twists in Republican and Democratic views on vouchers. Among Republicans, 48 percent were opposed to full-tuition vouchers for private or religious schools, compared with 47 percent who favored vouchers.

"The Republicans are split: Nationally they want vouchers, but individuals say different," John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based think tank, and a former House Democratic aide, said at the news conference.

Among Democrats, meanwhile, 51 percent favored such vouchers, while 43 percent opposed them. Nationally, nearly all prominent Democrats have strongly opposed government vouchers for private school tuition.

Public Support

The poll, commissioned annually by Phi Delta Kappa, a professional education group based in Bloomington, Ind., also shows public support for efforts to improve schools, especially those proposed by the Clinton administration.

A majority of the public favors providing money to build or repair schools and to reduce class size in grades 1, 2, and 3. An overwhelming 71 percent of respondents support President Clinton's proposed voluntary national tests.

Support for improving inner-city schools appears to be on the rise. Nationally, 86 percent of respondents said inner-city school improvement is very important, up from 81 percent in 1993.

When asked whether they would be willing to pay more taxes to improve urban schools, 66 percent of all respondents said yes; among nonwhites, that figure was 79 percent.

"This group feels more intensely on this issue," Mr. Rose said at the news conference. "If it's a way to improve schools, nonwhites are more likely to support it."

Every year since 1974, Phi Delta Kappa has asked respondents to grade their local public schools on a scale from A to F. As has been the case for more than two decades, respondents gave their local community schools high grades, with 46 percent giving those schools an A or B. Respondents were not so generous with grading the nation's public schools overall; only 18 percent assigned them a grade of A or B, and a majority of respondents awarded a C grade.

"Public schools are generally well-regarded, but the public remains to be persuaded that kids are getting a better education," Mr. Rose said.

The poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,151 adults conducted in June.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 6

Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Poll Finds Americans Split Over Public Funding of Private Education
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