Opinion Poll Update

Published October 1, 2000

Vouchers Find Overwhelming Support in New York City

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says he favors school vouchers to allow parents to choose their child’s school. His critics try to sideline further discussion of the issue in the predominantly Democratic city by dismissing the proposal as a right-wing Republican plan.

But critics may have trouble dismissing the results of a new Hunter College survey of 1,257 Big Apple residents. Recently reported in The New York Post, the survey discovered nearly three-quarters of city residents familiar with vouchers share the Mayor’s point of view on the issue.

Hunter College polling director William Williams told Post reporter Carl Campanile he was surprised by the results, given that the Democratic Party opposes vouchers and the city is overwhelmingly Democrat. But, Williams said, “the people are for them.”

The 55 percent of survey respondents who said they were familiar with vouchers were asked if families should be allowed to send their children to the school of their choice. Support ranged from a high of 81 percent in The Bronx to 58 percent in Manhattan. Support was lower among whites (61 percent) and highest among low-income residents and non-whites, with vouchers being favored by 83 percent of blacks, 86 percent of Asians, and 87 percent of Hispanics.

Half of the respondents rated their local schools as “fair or poor” and two-thirds believe most public schools are “not safe places.”

Majority Favoring Vouchers Grows in Wisconsin

While some Badger State residents do not agree with the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 1998 decision to allow low-income parents in Milwaukee to choose public, private, or parochial schools for their children, that number is dwindling as more and more people come to accept the idea of a taxpayer-funded private school choice program.

In a statewide poll of Wisconsin residents conducted in June by Harris Interactive for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, 68 percent of respondents said they agreed with the state supreme court decision, up from 62 percent two years ago. The share of respondents disagreeing with the ruling dropped from 34 to 25 percent.

Support levels of at least 60 percent were found across all areas of the state, and support was above 65 percent even among respondents who said they were “liberal” or “Democrat.” According to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Alan J. Borsuk, the new poll results are consistent with those from other surveys, including one by the Journal-Sentinel last October, which found 60 percent of respondents supported the voucher program.

Vouchers Hold 8-Point Lead in Michigan

Voters who support Michigan’s school voucher initiative hold an 8-point lead–42 percent to 34 percent–over voucher opponents, according to a statewide survey of 600 likely Michigan voters conducted in August by The Detroit News.

Voucher proponents are well ahead in Detroit, with narrower margins in the suburbs and the rest of the state.

The poll also revealed that one in four voters remains undecided on the issue. That number is expected to fall over the weeks remaining before the election as both sides launch multi-million advertising campaigns.

The voucher initiative would permit parents in school districts with low high school graduation rates to send their child to a non-public school–secular or religious–using a voucher worth about $3,100. The initiative also would require testing of teachers and would guarantee a minimum level of school funding.

The state’s largest teacher union, the Michigan Education Association, is bitterly opposed to the initiative, which is backed by a diverse group of black ministers from Detroit, the Catholic Church, and Amway Corporation’s DeVos family.

“It’s a good idea,” retired auto worker James Pomorski told The Detroit News, “because even people who send their kids to parochial schools have to pay taxes for the public schools. They should be entitled to a rebate or a voucher.”

Polls Send Mixed Signals on California Voucher Initiative

A survey conducted in late July and early August by the Public Policy Institute of California found Californians divided on Proposition 38, the ballot initiative to make $4,000 vouchers available to the state’s children for private school choice. A second poll, conducted by Field on August 18-22, showed the voucher measure commands statewide support of only 36 percent, down from 39 percent in June. The Field poll also showed rising voter opposition, from 39 percent in June to 49 percent at the time of the poll.

According to the earlier Public Policy Institute poll, voters in Los Angeles County are fairly evenly split on the voucher initiative, with 43 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed. In Orange County, 51 percent of respondents supported Proposition 38, with only 38 percent opposed. Latino support for the initiative was running at 56 percent.

Ignore Seniority When Hiring Teachers, Say Bostonians

The current teacher contract between the Boston Teachers Union and the city’s School Department guarantees placement of a teacher from the “excess pool” in one of three vacancies they select, with jobs held by first-year teachers counting as vacancies. As a result, promising rookie teachers sometimes are ousted from their jobs by senior teachers who principals may not want. The process is referred to unofficially as “the dance of the lemons.”

The School Department wants to bring that dance to a halt by scrapping the preference given to teachers with seniority. Thus, vacancies would be open to all applicants–tenured teachers, teachers from other districts, and new teachers.

Seventy-one percent of Bostonians agree with that approach, according to a recent telephone poll of 400 city voters. The survey was conducted in August by Harrison & Goldberg for Boston United for the Children, a coalition of business and community leaders who want to bring about education reforms by making changes to the teacher union contract.

“The bottom line is that I think parents want the best teachers, period,” the Rev. Gregory G. Groover told Boston Globe reported Scott S. Greenberger. Groover is chairman of the Black Ministerial Alliance, one of the members of the coalition. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Voices for Children, and at least 24 other community groups are also members of Boston United.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.