If money weren’t a problem, a majority of Pennsylvania parents would pull their kids out of public schools. That was the finding of a new poll from the Commonwealth Foundation.
The survey of 800 Keystone State voters found that 55 percent said, financial considerations aside, they would rather their kids attend a private school. Fewer than one in five (18 percent) picked public school as their first option.
More parents preferred sending their kids to a non-religious private school (33 percent) than a religious private school (22 percent). Charter schools and home schools were the choice of seven percent of respondents.
Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano said the poll’s most disturbing finding was the poor grade most Pennsylvanians gave the public school system. “[W]hen asked to grade the K through 12 system, the respondents gave schools twice as many F’s as they did A’s.”
Those who tended to favor public education made over six figures. Stefano said that showed “if you can buy in the marketplace options” — in other words, afford to move to communities with high-performing public schools — you have a more positive view of government-run education.
Only three percent of those making less than $40,000 gave public schools an A, while 11 percent gave public schools an F. The results were similar for respondents earning between $40,000 and $125,000 annually.
While schools historically taught ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic,’ 41 percent of Pennsylvanians did not believe that is happening in classrooms today. Almost 50 percent believe students aren’t learning life skills. Student safety concerns were at 38 percent, while 37 percent of parents worried about learning loss from COVID shutdowns.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a bill last week expanding the state’s tax credit scholarship programs by $150 million. The first-term Democrat previously reached a deal with the Republican-controlled Senate on vouchers. That plan was ditched in July after the Democratic-controlled House refused to pass a budget that included $100 million for school choice.
Shapiro, however, has consistently said he wants to give children “more opportunity to learn” if they are in difficult situations.
Pennsylvanians feel the same way, and according to the Commonwealth Foundation poll, they want the governor to honor the deal he made with Senate Republicans on student scholarships.
The Commonwealth Foundation said 61 percent agreed the scholarships should be funded. Sixty-four percent of people 18 to 29 and 67 percent of those 30 to 44 believed Shapiro needed to follow through on the voucher deal. A whopping 70 percent of people living in the big city favored the agreement. Not only that, but 63 percent of Democrats and independents gave support to scholarships.
“[It’s] very interesting, given that the Democratic Party elites were debating whether to have a resolution to condemn school vouchers as policy,” said Nathan Benefield, senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “They seem to be appeasing the teachers unions but are out of touch with their own voters who think that Gov. Shapiro should get that done and support lifetime scholarships for low-income kids.”
Shapiro avoided a rebuke from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s rules committee last week after an anti-voucher resolution was tabled. Party Chair Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) said the national Democratic Party asked the resolution to be tabled under the guise of party unity. He wouldn’t say who from the Democratic National Committee made the request.
An original version of the anti-voucher resolution would have included language criticizing Shapiro for talking to Fox News about vouchers and that “school voucher policies are widely supported by the [party’s] political opponents.”
School choice advocates still hope vouchers will become a reality in Pennsylvania. American Federation for Children CEO Tommy Schutz told DVJournal that “Empowering families should not be a partisan issue; in fact, a super-majority of every political party and demographic – including 66 percent of Democrats in a recent poll – support it. Democrat Party leaders who have chosen to represent the unions instead of their constituents on this issue do so at their own political peril.”