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Support for Charter Schools Stays Steady, But Drops for Vouchers, Poll Finds

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Although public support for charter schools has remained relatively steady over the past 10 years, support for school vouchers has fallen, according to a new poll released today.

Charter schools are more popular among Republicans with 74 percent supporting the publicly funded schools that are run independently from the traditional district system, compared to 58 percent of Democrats—numbers that have changed little over the last decade, according to Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Meanwhile, overall support for school vouchers for low-income students, which allow eligible students to use public money to attend a private school, has dropped from 55 percent to 43 percent over the last four years among people of both political parties, according to the pollIn 2007, the first year of the survey, support for vouchers for low-income students was at 56 percent, although the question in the survey was phrased differently at that time.

"Taken together, these shifts are quite remarkable," write the authors of a report which accompanied the survey results. "Rarely does opinion on a policy question change so dramatically over the course of a single decade."

The nationally representative poll of 4,181 adults was conducted from May to June of this year. 

But school vouchers for low-income students are more popular among Democrats than Republicans—49 percent compared to 37 percent in 2016—which puts most voters at odds with the policy initiatives of their party leaders. Vouchers and other similar programs are generally pushed through state legislatures by Republican lawmakers against opposition from their Democratic counterparts.

Universal vouchers, or vouchers for all students regardless of income, are also more popular among a growing number of Democrats, having risen from 49 percent in support in 2013 to 56 percent in 2016.

Black and Latino may be driving Democratic support for these policies, say the report's authors.

Although support for tax-credit scholarships—which are similar to vouchers but not directly funded with public dollars—has slipped some (again, mostly due to Republicans), they are the most popular type of private school choice program, with 65 percent of respondents supporting the idea.

From the Common Core to Teacher Tenure

Support for policies around standardized testing follow a somewhat similar pattern to charter schools and vouchers. While respondents' views toward federally required testing have remained mostly unchanged over the last decade, support for the Common Core State Standards fell to a new low in 2016.

In 2012, 90 percent of respondents indicated they favored the common core. In 2016, that number is just 50 percent, marking an eight-point drop from just last year.

Much of that fall has been driven by a shift in Republican attitudes toward the standards. Meanwhile, nearly four out of five survey respondents say that they support the federal government requiring testing in math and reading.

"On the one hand, Americans continue to support state and federal policies that require schools to assess student progress toward meeting state-designated performance standards," write the report's authors. "On the other, they are steadily turning against the most prominent initiative to do just that—the Common Core State Standards."

There is also mixed news for teachers in the survey's findings. While support for tenure has dropped, support for higher teacher salaries has climbed to its highest level since the 2008 recession. However, respondents also greatly underestimate how much teachers get paid and tend not to be so generous when first told the average teacher salary in their state.

The largest gap between the general public and teachers on any issue in the 2016 survey was on the topic of merit pay: 60 percent of the public supported the policy, while only 20 percent of teachers did.

There was not a significant difference based on political party-affiliation.

To dig further into the numbers as well as public attitudes toward other issues ranging from teacher unions to blended learning, click on the link for the full results here: "Ten-Year Trends in Public Opinion From the Ed Next Poll."

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