Poll Finds Hardening of Positions, Less Support for Vouchers
First-time polling of Hispanics finds greater optimism about public schools and interest in non-public schooling
By Ben Hammer
Black, Hispanic and White support has hardened in an unfavorable way to publicly funded vouchers for private school, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found in a poll it released last month.
The shift in support has been the most pronounced among older respondents, who are more likely to vote, meaning it’s unlikely that vouchers will remain a politically significant issue, said David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center.
The poll found that support for vouchers is strongest among respondents younger than 35, while opposition is strongest in those over age 50.
“Seniors are more focused on things like prescription drug benefits, and we’re in a time of deficits, not surpluses,” he added.
The poll found that 54.9 percent of Whites believe their public schools are good as opposed to 35.2 percent of Blacks and 42.9 percent of Hispanics. An almost equal number of Blacks and Hispanics felt their schools had improved, worsened or remained the same over the past five years, the poll found.
In another key finding, while a majority of Blacks support vouchers, almost half of them don’t know how much of their own money they would be willing to use to supplement that funding. Hispanics and Whites responded in almost the same fashion that Blacks did on the question of support for vouchers and how much of their own money they would use to supplement the vouchers.
Bositis, who focuses more on politics than policy, says Black people who are going to vote for Republicans or conservatives are not going to vote for candidates who support vouchers, so politicians who raise the issue of vouchers don’t do so in an earnest attempt to win Black voters. In addition to his work at the Joint Center, Bositis advises the Congressional Black Caucus on redistricting.
“The people who are advocating vouchers are preaching to the choir,” he says. “Some of the members of their base they’re making happier by advocating vouchers.”
This year’s study of attitudes toward public schools marked the first time the Joint Center surveyed a statistically significant sample of Hispanics. In many polls, Hispanic responses fall somewhere between those of Blacks and Whites, Bositis said. That was also the case in Hispanics ranking of their children’s public schools as excellent or good.
However, the Joint Center found that Hispanics were more optimistic about the quality of their public schools than were either Blacks or Whites. At the same time, they were more supportive of vouchers and more willing to pay $5,000 for private schooling than other groups, Bositis said.
The poll results suggest that people’s attitudes on vouchers are based on very little knowledge about private schools, Bositis said. The Joint Center asked respondents how much they thought private school cost, and the most common answer was an average of 28 percent of the actual cost.
“That could mean that 20 percent of the population know what they’re talking about and 80 percent don’t,” he says. “People’s response to vouchers is based on zero experience.”
The Joint Center poll examined individual attitudes toward public schools and related issues. But Bositis thinks the significance of the findings is that political support for vouchers is unlikely to go anywhere. While he doesn’t think vouchers would help those who receive them, he does think the debate about vouchers at least focuses the public on education issues.
In the nation’s capital, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams last month supported the Bush administration’s plan for federally funded vouchers in testimony he gave before the House Committee on Government Reform. The mayor’s comments marked a reversal of his previous position on the issue. Williams told the Washington Post he “got up one morning and decided there are a lot of kids getting a crappy education and we could do a lot better.”
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