Pennsylvania Voters Strongly Support School Choice

Published March 1, 1998

Republican and Democratic voters in southwest Pennsylvania strongly support school choice, as well as Governor Tom Ridge’s efforts to implement statewide academic standards that students must meet before advancing from one grade to the next.

According to a new poll conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Policy Research, support for school choice was strongest among younger voters. Eighty percent of respondents in the 18-34 age group favored a choice plan that would allow parents to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools.

“What was amazing was the support for school choice including parochial schools,” said Lincoln Institute chairman Lowman S. Henry. “In most surveys, support for school choice generally drops when you include parochial schools, but here the numbers actually went up.”

The poll was conducted among registered voters in an 11-county area in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh and its surroundings. The area is skewed demographically towards an older age group because of out-migration by young people.

On the issue of public school choice, 65 percent of voters said they favor giving parents the right to send their children to the public school of their choice, with support rising to 85 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds. Public school choice was supported by 64 percent of both Republicans and Democrats.

Support for school choice held firm when parental options were extended to include public and private schools. Public or private school choice was favored by 64 percent of all voters, with Republican support slightly stronger than Democratic, 67 percent versus 61 percent.

Surprisingly, support for school choice increased when parochial schools were included in the mix of parental options. Sixty-nine percent of voters surveyed favored a plan that would allow parents to send their children to public, private, or parochial schools, with support reaching 80 percent among 18- to 34-year-olds. Support for the parochial school option was almost identical among Republican and Democratic voters, 69 percent versus 68 percent.

“I found this to be a very surprising result because that part of the state is heavily Democratic and heavily unionized,” commented Henry.

Although somewhat more Democrats (90 percent) than Republicans (84 percent) support GOP Governor Ridge’s call for students to meet statewide academic standards before being promoted to the next grade, an overwhelming majority of voters (88 percent) are in favor of the standards. Support among 18- to 34-year-olds reached 95 percent. Eighty-six percent of the survey respondents agreed that standards would improve performance.

The Lincoln Institute’s poll of 336 registered voters was conducted on October 15-16, 1997, by Precision Marketing Inc., of Easton, Pennsylvania. It has a margin of error of +/- 5 percent.

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