With Congress returning to work this week and the Georgia General Assembly doing so on Monday, many voters are watching to see what issues are tackled (or not) in the coming months.
A new poll released this week suggests Georgia lawmakers ought to carefully consider advancing school choice.
Georgia voters rank K-12 education as the most likely issue to motivate them to vote in 2016: more than jobs, more than taxes, more than pre-K, more than any other single issue.
It makes sense. People believe students deserve an excellent, effective, education. If a child graduates from high school, he/she is much more likely to have success in life, family, career and society. If a child doesn’t graduate, or graduates without the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue college or a career, that child is much more likely to struggle. It doesn’t mean they are doomed. It just means they’ve got a tougher road ahead, one more likely to lead to detours involving public assistance, incarceration, family instability and so on.
The instinct of voters (and humans, generally) is that every child deserves a shot at a great education that prepares them for success in life. The problem, if we are willing to be honest, is that far too many of Georgia’s students are in schools that aren’t meeting their needs. Maybe it’s a chronically poor-performing school. Maybe it’s a generally good school that just isn’t the right fit for that child.
Perhaps this is why more than two in three Georgia voters favor school choice (66%/29%). What’s more interesting is that support for school choice generally, and certain programs specifically, transcends traditional partisan political and demographic boundaries.
For instance, sixty-three percent (63%) favor the creation of the Georgia Opportunity Scholarship Program, which would “allow parents to use the money the state has set aside for their child’s education to send them to the public, private or church-run school of their choice”—even when told this is sometimes referred to as a “voucher,” traditionally a highly polarizing term (support is higher without including the “v-word” disclaimer).
Dig a little deeper in the poll’s crosstabs and the story gets more interesting. Seventy-one (71%) of GOP primary voters favor creating this type of scholarship program. That may not be a surprise. But it turns out almost two-in-three Black voters – regardless of partisan affiliation – support the program, even more than White voters (64%/61%). Support among female voters – again, regardless of partisan affiliation – is stronger than that of men (67%/59%).
Eight-five percent (85%) of Georgia voters support Georgia’s current Special Needs Scholarship, currently the state’s only K-12 voucher program, including a whopping 92% of Black voters and 81% of GOP primary voters.
If I were an elected official (mercifully, for everyone, I have no desire to ever hold public office), an issue that garners 60% or more support from every key demographic: men/women, White/Black, younger/older, would be a dream. Passing a law giving more students access to an effective education also happens to be a political winner.
Mom and apple pie, meet school choice.
As the pollster concludes in his official memo: “BOTTOM LINE: Georgians are showing a strong propensity to favor increasing school choice programs. Even in a highly polarized political environment, these policies garner support across many key voter groups. As the new legislative session approaches, lawmakers should be mindful of voters’ desires to increase educational options for students and parents and make scholarship programs more inclusive.”