This week’s observance of National School Choice Week in California comes at a time when the movement to expand charter schools in the Golden State and increase school choice options for every student is at a particularly low ebb.
Recall that last fall, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation that is one of the biggest setbacks to charter schools in recent memory. PRI’s Lance Izumi wrote that this new state law gives, “carte blanche to deny new charter-school petitions, with children being the victims.”
Meanwhile, on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, candidate Elizabeth Warren going all in with an anti-school choice education platform. Izumi writes of Warren’s plan to “eliminate the federal program that promotes new charter schools” and have “only local school boards, which are often controlled by union sycophants, to have the power to authorize the establishment of charter schools,” which he notes is a position to the left of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
But is this anti-charter school movement good politics for the candidates and elected officials who embrace it? New polling released in advance of National School Choice Week says no.
According to national polling from the American Federation for Children, 69 percent of voters back the concept of school choice – including 82 percent of Latinos and 67 percent of African-Americans. 57 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents expressed their support for choice.
Meanwhile, the poll found that a majority of Democratic primary voters are less likely to back Warren’s proposal to end federal funding for charter schools. 56 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would be less likely to voter for a candidate with Warren’s platform. 62 percent of African-Americans and 65 percent of Latinos said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate, too. Perhaps this explains Warren’s recent slide in the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire and nationally.
In contrast with Newsom and Warren’s agenda, voters of all stripes are looking to expand school choice options. Izumi has written about a Trump Administration proposal to create so-called Education Freedom Accounts, under which, taxpayers could receive a non-refundable, dollar-for-dollar tax credit for making “voluntary contributions to scholarship-granting organizations . . . (that promote) a wide variety of educational options.”
These proposals are incredibly popular nationwide. The American Federation for Children poll shows 78 percent of voters support this proposal, including 77 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Latinos and African-Americans.
And support is still strong for school choice in California. According to an April 2019 Public Policy Institute of California poll, 75 percent of Californians and 81 percent of public school parents said it was important “for parents in lower-income areas to have the choice of sending their children to charter schools instead of traditional local public schools.” Consider that this polling was published during the heart of the public relations push by opponents of charter schools to enact last year’s controversial legislation.
This latest polling is further proof that, if capitalized upon, free-market ideas like education freedom scholarships and charter schools could provide the inspiration for the formation of untraditional political coalitions in favor of school choice – and ultimately, more political balance in the Golden State.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.