Given the opportunity, nearly eight in 10 Nebraskans would choose to send their children to private schools, charter schools, or even homeschool them rather than send them to a public school, according to a recent poll.
A survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found 44 percent of parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grade would like to enroll their kids in private school; 11 percent said they would like to send their kids to a public charter school; and 20 percent would opt to homeschool.
Just 21 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they would choose traditional government-run schools. Currently, however, 88 percent of Nebraskans enroll their children in public schools.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference and several other state and national groups cosponsored the poll, which was conducted by phone by Strategic Visions LLC between April 17 and 19 of this year and published in September. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.
The survey shows broad bipartisan support for school choice and education tax credits, said Paul DiPerna, the Friedman Foundation’s director of state polling and partner services.
“Right now options are very limited in Nebraska,” said DiPerna.
Nebraska does have an open enrollment law allowing for inter-district transfers, thus affording parents a choice of public schools. But the state legislature has voted down several private school choice bills over the past decade. In addition, Nebraska is one of just 10 states without a charter school law.
Though the Nebraska legislature is currently out of session, policymakers have met the poll results with “a mixture of surprise as well as encouragement for those who want more schooling options,” DiPerna said.
The poll reveals particularly strong bipartisan support among Nebraska voters for tuition tax credits. Fifty-two percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Republicans, and 53 percent of independents said they would support tax-credit scholarships.
That finding could boost the prospects of Legislative Bill 67, which would extend tax credits for contributions to private scholarship programs. The bill is awaiting action in the unicameral legislature’s Revenue Committee, which tabled the legislation in February. Nebraska lawmakers are scheduled to take up the bill again when they reconvene early next year. Similar bills failed in 2000 and 2001.
Jeremy P. Murphy, associate director for education issues for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said he was “pleased and encouraged” by the survey’s results. Murphy’s organization is lobbying for LB 67.
Nebraska has 113 Catholic elementary and high schools, which together enroll 30,000 students. Statewide, 208 other private schools educate another 38,503 students.
“In light of the increased attention and emphasis on academic achievement,” Murphy said, “there is no doubt that Nebraskans recognize private and parochial schools as a vital component in the educational landscape.”
One possible wrinkle in the Friedman Foundation’s findings, however, concerns the polling firm that conducted the survey.
Atlanta-based Strategic Vision LLC has faced questions in recent months about its methodology. The American Association for Public Opinion Research reprimanded the firm in September for failing to release information about several polls it conducted prior to the New Hampshire and Wisconsin presidential primaries in 2008.
DiPerna says the Friedman Foundation is satisfied with Strategic Vision’s methodology.
“So far, they have obliged our requests in sending us methodological information and crosstabs for our state polls,” DiPerna said. “Still, we are taking the recent news developments seriously, and these are matters that merit further review.”
The Friedman Foundation has used several polling firms in its state survey series, including Princeton, New Jersey-based Braun Research and Indianapolis-based Marketing Informatics, DiPerna said. The Foundation hasn’t decided which companies it will contract for its surveys in 2010.
Since 2007 the Friedman Foundation has polled voters in Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Vermont. The next state poll, set for a November release, looks at voters’ attitudes on school choice and reform in Virginia.
Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) writes from southern California.