The study, conducted by GenForward and published by USA Today in September 2017, found among millennials, 79 percent of blacks, 76 percent of Asian Americans, 77 percent of Latinos, and 66 percent of whites support vouchers. In addition, 65 percent of millennial-age blacks, 61 percent of Asian Americans, 58 percent of Latinos, and 55 percent of whites support policies to allow charter schools.
Millennials are loosely defined as the generation born between 1982 and 2000.
Only a small fraction of American students are using a government-funded education choice program. Approximately three million students currently attend charter schools, and 500,000 use private school choice programs.
The poll results support research published earlier in the year. A Beck Research poll in January 2017 on behalf of the American Federation for Children (AFC) found 75 percent of millennials support school choice.
Tommy Schultz, AFC’s national communications director, says several polls have confirmed millennials’ approval of school choice.
“Our polling pretty consistently [shows] high support from millennials,” Schultz said. “Numerous other pollsters have similar results.”
Schultz says the popularity of choice among millennials has to do with how they were raised.
“Millennials inherently distrust institutions,” Schultz said. “We’ve grown up with lots of options in every aspect of our lives. If you look back over the history of education, even the last couple-hundred years, there were generally small tweaks to the system but nothing dramatically different. The millennial generation coming up [saw] the development of charter schools and voucher programs as we were about to start going to school.
“Research has shown that these programs are helpful,” Schultz said. “A larger extent of taxpayers are saying, ‘Why am I paying so much and not getting the best education for my child?'”
‘Personalized Consumer Culture’
DiPerna says millennials are accustomed to having choices in everyday life, which translates to wanting choice in education.
“My hunch is that millennials have been raised in an increasingly personalized consumer culture,” DiPerna said. “As they become parents, start having children, and begin their schooling years, they are likely to want more flexibility, mobility, and options, just as they have experienced in many other areas of their lives.”
Paul DiPerna, vice president of research and innovation at EdChoice, says millennials may change the course of education.
“The influence of millennials, economically, socially, and politically, will increase slowly but steadily over the next several decades,” DiPerna said. “They now number more than 75 million, representing the largest generation in the United States, and will be rising through the workforce to leadership positions for many years to come. Based on recent surveys, millennials appear to be more open to education reform and school choice policies than other generations, and if those views persist over time, millennials could potentially shift the power dynamics in American education.”
Schultz says millennials’ opinions will become government policy.
“The largest generation right now is the millennial generation, and in a few years that will translate into political willpower and political action,” Schultz said. “They will be electing and demanding from their legislators that you enact and expand these choice programs.”
Emphasis on Underprivileged
Currently, many of the families supporting education options and programs are beneficiaries of these programs, Schultz says.
“Politically, when lawmakers are looking to pass policies like [school choice], they focus on low-income groups in urban areas, and the recipients are generally low-income families,” Schultz said. “They may have more friends go through choice programs. They see the benefits and options that the upper classes have had for decades, of moving to a better district or paying for better options. They want to take advantage of these programs.”
Reaching the Middle Class
Schultz says school choice programs, which typically exclude working- and middle-class families, will probably expand in their favor in the coming years.
“I think there are going to be more and more programs enacted at the state level that will benefit middle-income and working families, and I think that will take time,” Schultz said. “So much of this system—current education and the current way of thinking on public education in general—is really being enforced by folks who are quite older and quite set in their ways and on keeping their grip of power on the system.
“We are much more disruptively constructive a generation,” Schultz said. “As we become parents and voters and more active politically, I think you will see more education choice.”
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
“Millennials Believe American Education Needs to Change,” GenForward, September 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/millennials-believe-american-education-needs-to-change