Support for Educational Choice Is Strong in Maryland, Poll Shows

Published December 1, 2008

A new poll indicates Maryland residents are far from satisfied with their public schools and want their legislators to allow alternatives.

The poll found only 17 percent of Maryland voters consider their public schools to be good or excellent, and only 18 percent would choose a regular public school if they could have their choice of any type of educational program.

‘Interesting Disconnect’

Paul DiPerna, director of partner services for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said the answer to the question about parents’ preferences stood out to him as the most significant finding of the poll, because those preferences differ greatly from where students actually go to school.

“There is an interesting disconnect between preferences and the real-world constraints set up by the government or others,” DiPerna said.

The poll was conducted by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based public affairs agency, on behalf of the Friedman Foundation in Indianapolis and Agudath Israel of Maryland, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Maryland Council for American Private Education, Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, Maryland Catholic Conference, National Catholic Educational Association, Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The telephone poll, conducted with 1,200 households between June 27 and June 29, carries a +/- 3 percent margin of error and was released August 28.

Entrepreneurial Opportunities

While only about 10 percent of Maryland’s students currently attend private school, according to DiPerna, the results show about 45 percent of parents in the state would like to send their children to one.

That’s the second-highest percentage of any state the Friedman Foundation has surveyed on this topic so far. A survey of Nevada residents released in January 2008 indicated 48 percent of Nevadans would like to send their kids to a private school.

“That nearly half of Maryland residents would want to send their kids to private schools shows that there is [little] support for the status quo,” DiPerna said.

As a result, DiPerna said, Maryland is fertile ground for entrepreneurs who want to provide education alternatives. The respondents who would like to send their child to a private school were nearly evenly divided between desiring a religious school and a non-religious one.

Bipartisan Call for Reform

Another significant finding, DiPerna said, is the bipartisan nature of the responses to the questions.

A little more than 50 percent of both Republicans and Democrats each favor tax-credit scholarships. About 40 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents favor school vouchers and charter schools, and one-third of Republicans, Democrats, and independents support virtual schools.

Another key finding of the survey is that 42 percent of Maryland voters believe public school funding is too high. Another 20 percent say it is just about right.

Though Maryland public schools spent $12,230 per student in 2006 (the latest year for which figures were available), most respondents had no idea what the actual figure is—only 8 percent of respondents believed it was more than $10,000. That means voters think the state should be spending far less per student than it actually does.

‘Very Positive News’

“This poll is very positive news, and it’s something we at the Maryland Public Policy Institute have been suspecting for a long time,” said Chris Summers, president of MPPI, a policy research organization based in Rockville. “Parents are not satisfied with public schools—even with Maryland’s recent legislation that has increased education spending by $1.3 billion.

“Will lawmakers continue to protect these status quo schools?” Summers asked. “The needs of the institution and school systems come first for legislators, and the needs of students and parents are far down on the list.”

In an August 28 press statement by the Maryland Nonpublic Schools Legislative Coalition, Henry Fortier, president of the Maryland Council for American Private Education, said, “The poll results don’t say that one system is better than another, but rather it’s to everyone’s advantage to give families high-quality, affordable educational options.”

“We’re encouraged to see that the concept of the business tax credit for scholarships is a winner with voters in Maryland,” Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, said in the same release. “Our hope is that the Maryland legislature will support all students and families in Maryland, regardless of where they attend school.”

“If anything, the takeaway from this poll is that Marylanders suffer from a lack of information—or worse, a campaign of misinformation—when it comes to possible options for expanding parents’ educational choices,” Maryland Catholic Conference Deputy Director Mary Ellen Russell said in another August 28 press release. “When given proper information about the benefits that a diverse educational system provides, it’s clear that voters are open to supporting all students and families, regardless of where their children attend school.”

Michael Coulter ([email protected]) writes from Pennsylvania.

For more information …

“Maryland’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, et al., August 28, 2008: