How do North Carolinians feel about their schools and how their children are educated? The November Civitas Poll provided plenty of good information about those topics. So what did we learn? North Carolinians are dissatisfied their current educational options and parents want more say in where their children are educated. Five key findings emerge from a review of our November poll results:
1. The current system isn’t working. A full 78 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “there are too many children in failing schools in North Carolina.” The sentiment is shared by liberals (75 percent), conservatives (84 percent), and moderates (69 percent). When asked to identify reasons for these concerns, 69 percent of respondents said children are trapped because parents lack resources. Nearly a quarter of respondents (22 percent) said students continue to attend failing schools because there are no other appropriate or better education options available.
2. Parents want control over their child’s education. This might seem obvious from most discussions. Still, when you actually ask the question and put numbers to responses, the results are worthy of attention. Eighty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the statement “parents have the right to choose a school for their child that will best meet their educational needs and supports their values.” Strong support for parental rights was evident across North Carolina. Support for parents’ right to choose the best educational options for their children ranged from 83 percent in the Western North Carolina to a high of 92 percent in Southeast North Carolina. Self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives agreed with the statement by healthy margins of 85, 81 and 92 percentage points respectively.
- Parents are uneasy about current educational options. When asked what option they would pick if they could choose the best education for their child, a little less than a third of parents (32 percent) said they would chose traditional public schools for their children. The percentage of parents who would choose public charter, private schools, home schools, private schools, magnet and virtual schools totaled 63 percent of respondents. These numbers have stayed pretty similar over the past three years. Currently, North Carolina public schools enroll about 85 percent of all K-12 students. Public charter schools account for about 4 percent; private and home schools account for 5 percent of enrollment respectively. These numbers suggest a disconnect between the status quo and the educational options parents want.
- Strong Support for ESAs. When asked if they support or oppose the idea of providing parents control over taxpayer-funded accounts to pay for a child’s education expenses, respondents supported Education Savings Accounts by a margin of 63 percent to 30 percent, a ratio of more than 2 to 1. It’s also important to note that support for ESAs is strong across regions, races and political backgrounds. Support for ESAs is above 60 percent in all regions but the Piedmont, where 59 percent of respondents said they support ESAs. Also, 59 percent of whites support ESAs, and along with 72 percent of African-Americans. Equally important, support for ESAs was strong across the political spectrum: 66 percent of registered Republicans support ESAs, compared with 61 percent of registered Democrats and 60 percent of independents.
- ESAs vs. More Funding. When given the option of more funding for the public schools or providing children with a flexible ESA spending account, 50 percent of respondents chose ESAs over improved funding for the public schools (41 percent). The ESA option received a majority of votes in every region but the Southeast (48 percent) and Charlotte (39 percent).
We at Civitas have long thought parents have wanted greater control over their child’s education. Poll results show such statements to be not only true but to have strong support among those with differing political or geographical backgrounds. It’s hard to look at the data and call school choice a “tool” of one political party. Such results are good news to legislators and anyone concerned about ensuring all North Carolina’s families – and not just those in favorable ZIP codes – have access to quality education.