We are entering the first funnel week for the Iowa Legislature so for bills not passed out of committee it is do or die time. Because of this Education Savings Accounts, a school choice measure that could get some traction this year, comes into focus. The Des Moines Register and Mediacom (why are they polling?) decided to poll Iowans to see what they think.

Seltzer & Company asked 802 Iowans this question:

The Iowa Legislature may consider changes to Iowa law that would help parents of school-age children pay costs for non-public schools or homeschooling for grades K-12. The money would come from money normally allocated to public schools. Do you favor or oppose this change?

Fifty-eight percent of the 802 Iowans asked said they oppose this. Only 35 percent say they favor using money this way. A plurality of Republicans (49 percent) say they favor this while 43 percent oppose.

71 percent of Democrats oppose the change, no surprise, as do 57 percent of independents.

A plurality of Iowans making less than $30,000 a year – 49 percent – support the change.

I would love to ask an open-ended question for all of those who oppose, why should public schools receive money for students they are not educating? Another follow-up question would be whose money is it to begin with?

Also, should parents be forced to attend a particular school because of their zip code and income? The Des Moines Register cites open enrollment as an escape hatch… sure if you qualify for it. However families that make just enough to not receive free or reduced lunches, but perhaps not enough to be able to afford private school or have the ability to lose income in order to home school are stuck in districts such as Des Moines and Waterloo who have exceptions to open enrollment.

In 2013 EdChoice commissioned an extensive survey done of Iowans. You can read the whole thing here. One of the questions they asked was to figure out if Iowans were aware of how much is actually spent per student for education. Their finding:

Based on open-end survey responses, Iowa voters do not know how much is spent per student in the public schools. There is very low awareness about public spending on K-12 education…. On average, $9,800 is spent on each student in Iowa’s public schools, and only 11% of respondents could estimate the correct per-student spending range for the state (this dollar figure reflects “current expenditures” per student). About 46% of respondents thought that $8,000 or less is being spent per student in the state’s public schools. Another 34% of voters said they “don’t know” and did not offer a spending number.

They followed this up by asking what those surveyed thought of the level of support per student.

When given the latest per-student spending information, voters are significantly less likely to say public school funding is at a level that is “too low,” compared to answering without having such information.

See Questions 6A and 6B

In an experiment, we asked two slightly different questions about the level of public school funding in Iowa. On version 6A, 45% of voters said that public school funding is “too low.” However, on version 6B, which included a sentence referring to data on per-student funding in Iowa ($9,807), the proportion of voters saying “too low” shrank by 11 percentage points to 34%, effectively a 24% reduction.

It seems that voters are likely to change their views on public school funding — at least for those who believe it is “too low” — if given accurate per-student spending information. This implication that opinion can turn on a single piece of data is important when considering political sound bites that focus on aggregate levels of public spending rather than how the money is allocated and spent per student. (Emphasis mine)

Right here we see the primary problem with The Des Moines Register’s poll. It is based on one piece of data and those polled lack context and information. They also don’t mention that an education savings account will just impact state funding, not money school districts receive from property taxes or any federal funding they may receive.

They also asked what kind of school option they would prefer. No surprise public school came out on top, but it wasn’t as high as you think.

When asked for a preferred school type, 49% of Iowans would choose a public school first. A private school option is the second most frequently cited preference (38%). Equal proportions of voters would prefer to send their child to a charter school (5%) or homeschool (5%). There is a disconnect between voters’ school preferences and actual enrollment patterns in the state.

They asked about a variety of school choice options:

  • Iowa voters are twice as likely to favor charter schools (50%), rather than oppose such schools (25%). The net support for charter schools is large (+25 percentage points). We estimate approximately 53% of voters are not familiar with charter schools.
  • A majority of Iowans (54%) said they support school vouchers, compared to 38% of voters who said they oppose such a school choice system. The margin of support (+16 points) is almost four times the survey’s margin of error.
  • Iowa voters are more likely to support an “education savings account” system (ESA) rather than oppose it. The percentage of those who favor ESAs (48%) is significantly greater than the proportion who say they oppose this type of public policy (38%).
  • By a two-to-one margin, voters support the school choice policy financing “tax-credit scholarships.” The percentage of those who favor (58%) is twice as large as the number of people who say they oppose such a school choice reform (29%). The margin of support is very large, roughly +29 percentage points. Likewise, voters are more likely to be intensely favorable toward tax-credit scholarships (+9 points).

So we are to believe in less than four years without school choice being a major issue in the state that public opinion has swung that much? Again, I encourage you to read through the survey. The questions gave participants information. They explained what programs were and then asked their opinion.

The Des Moines Register didn’t in their survey which makes their results seem preposterous.

EdChoice in 2016 completed a similar survey to determine the sentiment toward school choice nationally.

Some interesting findings there:

  • Only 28 percent of those surveyed prefer public school. 43 percent favored private school, 11 percent favored charter school and 10 percent favored homeschooling.
  • A solid majority (59%) say they favor charter schools, whereas 23 percent of respondents say they oppose charters. The margin of support for charter schools is large (+36 points). Americans are more than twice as likely to express intensely positive responses toward charters (21% “strongly favor” vs. 10% “strongly oppose”). Compared to their 2015 survey, support has increased six points and opposition has decreased four points (2015: 53% favor vs. 27% oppose).
  • A majority of Americans (56%) say they support school vouchers, compared with 28 percent who say they oppose such a school choice system. The margin of support (+28 points) is large, indicating the public is twice as likely to be supportive of vouchers. The intensity is net positive (+12 points) as respondents are more likely to express a strongly favorable view toward vouchers (28% “strongly favor” vs. 16% “strongly oppose”).
  • Nearly half of Americans (49%) say they support an “education savings account” system (“ESA”). The margin of support is large (+23 points) and less one-third of respondents (27%) said they oppose ESAs. The support level and margin have decreased since last year (2015: 62% favor vs. 28% oppose). Americans are more likely to express an intensely favorable view toward ESAs (24% “strongly favor” vs. 15% “strongly oppose”).

Where do Iowans stand on school choice? It would seem they are more enthusiastic about school choice options than The Des Moines Register’s poll suggests.

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