Michigan Voters Dissatisfied with Public Schools

Published January 1, 1998

While Michigan’s recent dramatic switch from local property taxes to state sales taxes for the support of public education has attracted the attention of other states, it has not resulted in increased support of the public education system by Michigan voters. Overall, the Michigan electorate today gives the state’s public schools only a C+ grade, according to a recent statewide poll conducted by the Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group Inc. In Detroit, respondents give their public schools an even lower grade, a C-.

With the poor grades assigned to the Motor City’s schools, it’s not surprising that an overwhelming number of Detroit respondents, 76 percent, would prefer to send their children to a private school. Only 18 percent would keep their children in public schools. For Michigan voters as a whole, sending their children to a private school rather than a public school was preferred by almost a margin of nearly two-to-one (61 percent to 35 percent), if money weren’t a factor.

“Michigan voters, Detroit voters in particular, have lost confidence in the ability of our public school system to educate our kids,” said MRG’s political director Mark Pischea. “It’s no wonder the people of Michigan are now looking to education reforms or a complete overhaul of our public schools to fix this problem.”

Among the reforms that a growing number of Michigan voters would support are school vouchers–even if such a reform required changing the state constitution. The MRG poll, which surveyed 600 Michigan voters between August 25 and September 2, 1997, found that 64 percent of those surveyed would vote to change the Michigan constitution to permit education vouchers. In Detroit, 75 percent would vote to change the constitution to allow vouchers.

“These voucher numbers are up substantially from an MRG poll conducted in March of 1990, when only 43 percent of the electorate favored vouchers and 49 percent opposed,” noted Pischea. “Momentum on this issue is definitely on the side of voucher proponents. In fact, this poll shows that if the election were held today, vouchers would pass in Michigan.”

Among other findings, the survey revealed that 62 percent of respondents would vote to support a potential ballot question providing for a pilot voucher program in Detroit, with only 35 percent opposed. Also, twice as many voters–56 percent to 28 percent–prefer candidates who support education vouchers.

The statewide survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent, while the survey conducted in Detroit has a margin of error of +/- 7.1 percent.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].