Many Educators Skeptical of School Choice, Including Conservatives, Survey Shows
School choice may be U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ favorite policy topic. But an Education Week nationally representative survey indicates that classroom teachers, principals, and district superintendents are highly skeptical of vouchers, charter schools, and tax-credit scholarships. And that includes many who voted for President Donald Trump, and even some who teach at private schools.
“I understand how [vouchers] would gut public schools and they wouldn’t actually help independent schools,” said Anna Bertucci, the associate head of school at Oakwood Friends School, a Quaker boarding school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “I feel like that funding should go into public schools.”
The Education Week Research Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of teachers, school-based leaders, and district leaders about their politics and views on a wide range of K-12 issues. The 38-question survey was administered in September and October to 1,122 educators including 555 teachers, 266 school leaders, 202 district leaders, and 99 other school or district employees. The margin of error for the survey overall was plus or minus 5 percent. Followup interviews involved survey respondents who agreed to be contacted after the survey and were willing to be quoted on a range of subjects.
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Charter schools, meanwhile, “are a really mixed bag,” added Bertucci, a Democrat. She worries that some charters are “undercutting unions” by discouraging teachers from joining. But she said, “I wouldn’t say I don’t like all charter schools.”
Overall, however, charters were viewed almost as negatively as private school vouchers by the educators who participated in the October survey of 1,122 educators conducted by the Education Week Research Center.
A plurality of those surveyed—45 percent—“fully oppose” charter schools, while another 26 percent “somewhat oppose” them. And 58 percent don’t support using government funds to help students cover the cost of private school, while 19 percent said they “somewhat oppose” vouchers. Meanwhile, about half oppose or “somewhat oppose” tax-credit scholarships, which give individuals and corporations a tax break for donating to scholarship-granting organizations.
Rural educators say vouchers and charter schools just won’t work in their context.
“In Montana, [school choice] is beyond ridiculous,” said Kris Magruder, the director of a Northern Montana cooperative that provides special education services to multiple districts and is a Republican who voted for Trump. “There’s only so much money and there’s only so many schools. ... Trying to get more choice for a school that has four students is ridiculous.”
Other educators see the benefits of some forms of choice, even if they aren’t supportive of others.
For instance, David Reich, a Republican and high school science teacher from rural Wisconsin, supports public school choice, but doesn’t think that tax dollars should go to private schools.
“I’m very much against using public money for private schools that espouse religion,” said Reich, who considers himself moderate on K-12 issues. “I’m all for competing against other public schools on a level playing field.”
To be sure, vouchers have some fans, even among some public educators.
“The public schools have a monopoly, they have absolutely have a monopoly on the education system,” said Laurie Villani, a kindergarten teacher at Tyler Elementary School in Prince William County, Va., who supported President Donald Trump. “One size does not fit all. There are children who would benefit from a structure different from the structure of public schools.”