Research & Commentary: New Polls Shows Overwhelming Support for Education Freedom and ESAs

Published March 25, 2022

Two new polls from the American Federation for Children (AFC) display how popular education freedom has become since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first poll, conducted by RealClear Opinion Research and surveying 2,000 registered voters, found 72 percent were in favor of the statement, “School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Generally speaking, would you say you support or oppose the concept of school choice?”

This represents a 8 percentage point gain in favorability from April 2020. Support for school choice came in at 68 percent for Democrats (a 9 percentage point gain since 2020), 82 percent for Republicans (a 7 percentage point gain), and 67 percent from independents (another 7 percentage point gain.)

“These poll numbers are stunning,” said AFC CEO Tommy Schultz in a statement accompanying the release of the poll. “The past two years have exposed to the world what many in the parental choice movement have known for decades: no single educational environment is right for every child. As the battle over educational freedom continues, party affiliation is secondary to ensuring all families are empowered to choose the best educational setting for their children. We urge policymakers, regardless of party, to act to expand options and opportunity to every child in America and eradicate barriers that prevent families from choosing a learning environment where their children can thrive. As these poll numbers show, there will be consequences if you go against the staggering majority of parents who support this issue.”

The second poll of 1,000 likely general election voters conducted by OnMessage Inc., found 77 percent support for education savings accounts (ESAs), including 83 percent support from Republicans, 76 percent from Democrats, and 74 percent from independents. Hispanic respondents (85 percent) and black respondents (84 percent) were the two groups most likely to support ESAs.  

“In the last two years, we have witnessed education freedom become one of the most important issues to Americans,” Schultz and President of Invest in Education Luke Messer said in a joint statement accompanying the release of the poll. “As we mark two years since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a seismic shift in how parents think about education. Voters are also prioritizing education freedom and standing ready to make their views known at the ballot box.”

“Furthermore,” Schultz and Messer continued, “as egregious achievement gaps continue to plague public schools across the country, with disadvantaged children systematically assigned to schools that have been failing students for decades, we must work together to empower families with alternative options through school choice. No child can afford to wait for the system to improve, and after three decades of evidence on effectiveness, we know school choice policies can provide a lifeline to millions of children.”

Copious empirical research on school choice programs such as ESA’s find these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

The goal of public education in the United States today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school. There has not been a time when providing these opportunities has been more urgent and more needed than right now. Legislators should recognize that and allow families as many options as possible to get their children the education they need and deserve.

The following documents provide more information about education choice.

The 123s of School Choice (2021 Edition)
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

The Fiscal Effects of Private K–12 Education Choice Programs in the United States
From an analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C., this EdChoice working paper summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Child Safety Accounts: Protecting Our Children through Parental Freedom
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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