New Poll Shows Increased Support for Vouchers

Published October 1, 1997

Showing a sharp increase over last year, the idea of using tax money to send students to private and parochial schools is now favored by a majority of parents with children in public schools. Support is strongest among women, blacks, other nonwhites, younger respondents, those who live in the South, and those in lower income brackets.

The poll, conducted by the Gallup Institute for Phi Delta Kappa International, reports that opposition to school vouchers is strongest among older Americans, those living in the West, those earning more than $50,000 a year, and suburbanites.

Although a majority of public school parents, 56 percent, give A or B grades to their local public schools, only 23 percent of those parents give the same grades to public schools as a whole. The poll shows broad support for reforms directed at improving academic achievement in the local public schools. The top-rated reforms, supported by more than three-quarters of Americans, are the following: placing a computer in every classroom, establishing national academic achievement standards, moving persistent “troublemakers” to alternative schools, and allowing parents to choose the public school their children attend.

The poll also showed increased support for tax-funded vouchers that would pay all or part of a student’s tuition at any public, private, or church-related school. Fifty-percent of parents with children in public schools support vouchers, up from 49 percent in 1996. Among blacks, 62 percent support vouchers (up from 42 percent last year) and among whites, 47 percent (up from 43 percent).

Overall opposition to the idea of allowing students and parents to choose a private school at public expense, which had been as high as 74 percent in 1993, dropped from 61 percent in 1996 to 52 percent this year.

A total of 1,517 adults, including 1,017 parents of public school children, were surveyed for the 29th annual Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.