Rhode Islanders want school choice and support vouchers for all students, according to a new poll.
“There is a broad-based support for giving families the option of sending their kids to the school of their choice,” said Michael Chartier, Rhode Island state director for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which co-published the poll. “This crosses all parties, spectrums, [and] geographic diversity of the state. There’s a wide acceptance of school choice, and people see the need to make a choice for where to send their kids to school.”
About 21,000 Rhode Island students attend private schools, while 145,000 attend traditional public or public charter schools.
Given the opportunity, 54 percent of Rhode Islanders would send their children to a private school, the study found.
Most Support Vouchers for All
Rhode Islanders also thought more highly of their local private schools than their public schools.
Forty-four percent gave an A or B grade to their local public schools, whereas 79 percent gave an A or B to their local private schools. Fifteen percent rated their local public schools D or F, and 5 percent rated local private schools D or F. These numbers don’t include participants who chose not to grade their local schools.
Of survey respondents, 62 percent said vouchers should be available, and 63 percent said vouchers shouldn’t be limited to families based on financial need.
“There’s this huge demand for the opportunity to send their children to private school, but they can’t access that,” Chartier said.
Researchers gathered the data in 602 phone calls this summer, and the margin of error is reported as 4 percentage points.
Rhode Island has limited school choice options—a small tax-credit scholarship program and some charter schools, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have new charter schools approved, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which co-published the study.
In early 2013 state Rep. Elaine Coderre (D-Pawtucket), sponsored a bill that would have made almost 70 percent of Rhode Island students eligible for vouchers to attend private schools.
The bill didn’t pass, but school choice proponents say the state may be open to similar measures in the upcoming legislative session, beginning in January.
“We’ve already broken the dam,” Stenhouse said. “It’s not like the whole idea of choice is an anathema to Rhode Island. We have two small, limited programs, and that’s another reason we feel … a voucher bill might have a chance in the coming years.
“They’re all our school system, and taxpayers pay taxes to educate those kids,” he added. “It shouldn’t matter whether the taxpayer dollar goes to government schools, private schools, homeschooling. It shouldn’t matter, as long as we’re getting quality education.… If one segment provides better options than another segment, it’s important for those options to be provided.”