A Braun Research survey released in January showed that Oklahoma voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor parental choice in education.
Comes now a new survey, this one of 600 Republican primary voters, showing strong support for educational choice. The poll was conducted June 8-10 by The Tarrance Group, a polling firm also used by Gov. Mary Fallin and Congressman James Lankford.
“Republican primary voters support the education reforms already adopted by the Republican Legislature but they want them to go much further,” says Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan, co-chairman of the Oklahoma Federation for Children, which commissioned the survey. “The Republican base wants bolder reforms and more educational choices for Oklahoma’s families.”
Consider, for example, this question: “Do you favor or oppose educational choice, which is giving parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with the education of their children to send their children to the public or private school of their choice?” Fully 75 percent of GOP voters favor educational choice, while 20 percent oppose.
The Tarrance surveyors then dug a little deeper: “Some people say that educational choice programs give parents the power to choose the school that works best for their child and puts pressure on all schools to do a better job educating children. Other people say that educational choice programs rob public schools of the funds they need to improve and allow a select few students to get a better education while other students are trapped in failing schools. Which viewpoint comes closest to your own?”
Fully 72 percent sided with “power to choose,” while 18 percent expressed the “rob public schools” viewpoint.
This level of support is all well and good in theory, but “for many public policy proposals, there is often a gap between support in theory and support in practice,” cautioned Brian Nienaber, vice president of The Tarrance Group. But in Oklahoma, he says, “no such gap exists on this issue.”
Consider, for example, this question: “In 2010, the State of Oklahoma created the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. This program allows the parents of a child with special needs to use the public funds allocated for the education of their child to send them to the school of their choice, including private schools. Would you say that you favor or oppose this program?”
A whopping 76 percent of GOP voters favor the program, while 15 percent oppose.
Another example: “As you may already know, in 2011 the State of Oklahoma created ‘Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships.’ This program provides up to a 75 percent state tax credit for businesses and individuals that donate to organizations giving scholarships to children to attend the school of their parents choosing, including at private schools. Would you say that you favor or oppose this program?”
Fully 73 percent of GOP voters favor the program, while 17 percent oppose.
Regarding the newest innovation in parental choice, Education Savings Accounts, the surveyor asked this question: “Some states are considering giving parents the chance to customize their child’s education through Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs. The state puts the funds it would have spent on a child’s behalf into a bank account the parent controls. The parent can then use these funds to purchase the education that best meets their child’s needs from a wide variety of sources including public schools, private schools, virtual schools, institutions of higher education, or other nonprofit education providers approved by the state. Any funds not used in a school year could be carried over for future education, including college. Would you say that you favor or oppose Oklahoma having a program like this one?”
A full 65 percent of GOP voters favor it, while 27 percent oppose.
Interestingly, the Tarrance survey found that those voters backing Joy Hofmeister for state school superintendent favor educational choice by a wide margin (69 percent favor, while only 25 percent oppose).
Hofmeister supporters favor the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships (72 percent to 20 percent), the Equal Opportunity tax-credit scholarships (68 percent to 21 percent), and Education Savings Accounts (57 percent to 33 percent). At a July 17 meeting of the Muskogee County Republicans and Conservatives Club, Hofmeister told Jamison Faught, editor of MuskogeePolitico.com, that she supports all three of those educational-choice mechanisms.
Make no mistake, Oklahoma’s educational-industrial complex still holds powerful sway over lawmakers, even many Republican lawmakers. But as Edmond resident Russell Perry, co-chairman of the Oklahoma Federation for Children, correctly observes, survey results like these make it clear that “it is time for the Republican Legislature to catch up with its voters and deliver for the children of Oklahoma.”
BRANDON DUTCHER, an Edmond resident, is senior vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank.