Poll: Oregonians Hungry for School Choice

Published March 1, 2009

The people of Oregon want more choice among educational opportunities for the state’s K-12 students, a new poll reports.

According to the report, issued jointly in January by the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, more than half of the 1,200 respondents approved of school vouchers, tax credit scholarships, charter and virtual schools, and merit pay for teachers.

Nearly nine of 10 respondents stated they would use some form of school choice if given the option. Less than a third rated public schools “good” or “excellent.”

“Frankly, we were surprised the findings in support of school choice were so high,” said Steve Buckstein, Cascade’s founder and senior policy analyst. “We knew anecdotally there was a lot of interest, but according to the survey, 87 percent would opt for something other than a regular public school if they could. We found that to be quite high—especially since 83 percent of them had children in K-12 schools.

“These people were mainly parents, and an overwhelming majority of them want more choices,” Buckstein said.

‘Appetite for Choice’

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they favor financially rewarding teachers for students’ academic performance, although 61 percent of voters defeated a proposition to do so in a state referendum last November, according to study author Paul DiPerna. He was unsure what caused the discrepancy.

The study found Oregon respondents strongly favor school vouchers, even more than in the other 10 states surveyed by the Friedman Foundation.

“Even though constitutionally in the state there would be some issues in terms of having a voucher system, 63 percent of respondents said they would be in favor of the school voucher approach. In Maryland that number was 42 percent, and in Oklahoma it was 53 percent,” DiPerna said. “The next closest to Oregon was Idaho at 60 percent—so Oregon absolutely has an appetite for school choice.”

Pending Legislation

A bill scheduled for consideration this legislative session—the Oregon Education Tax Credit Bill—would give taxpayers a $1,000 credit per child for educational expenses and a $1,000 credit for donating money to scholarship programs for low-income and special-needs students. It also would give corporations up to $8,000 in credits for donating to the programs.

The poll results spurred the Cascade Policy Institute to launch the Oregon School Choice Video Contest. Any Oregon K-12 student and his or her parent can enter a two-minute video explaining why they want school choice or how choice has benefited them. Twenty finalists will win $250 each, and the grand prize winner will receive $10,000 for educational purposes.

“We chose $10,000 for the grand prize because Oregon spends more than that per student in public schools,” Buckstein said. “Yet only 8 percent of the people surveyed thought that much was spent per student.”

The video submission deadline is March 25, and the winner will be announced April 15.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

“Oregon’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice”: http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/friedman/research/Show