Bluegrass Blues

, Sarah Carlsruh, Leave a comment

It turns out that not many parents in the Bluegrass state want their children to attend public school. Paul DiPerna, author of School Choice Survey in the State: Kentucky’s Opinion on K-12 Education and School Choice, found that people are not happy with the current public school system.

This August 2009 study is of Kentucky voters’ opinions on their state’s school system. Strategic Vision, a public relations agency, conducted this survey by making live phone calls to a random sample of 1,200 likely Kentucky voters. Its screening questions were such as to exclude people who had not voted in 2008 or did not intend to vote in 2010.

Strategic vision asked, “How would you rate Kentucky’s public school system?” Over half the respondents chose “poor” or “fair,” with quite a few more undecided. On the other hand, a mere 23% ranked their public school system as good or better.

The same survey was conducted in eleven other states and Kentucky’s responses ranked third to last. Perhaps related, the study’s very first question asked respondents to name a term that “best described their impression of Kentucky, and the most frequently used term was “depressed.”

This survey’s purpose is to show what Kentuckians think about “how best to provide a quality public education to all Kentucky children.” It shows that where Kentuckians send their children to school and where they feel their children will get that quality education are hardly one and the same. “There is a disconnect between parental school preferences (expressed in this survey) and actual school enrollments.” It turns out that “Thirteen percent of Kentucky parents said they would choose a regular public school for their child.” DiPerna states, “approximately ninety-one percent of Kentucky’s K-12 students attend regular public schools.”

In contrast, just about half of those surveyed would choose a private school for their child if they were to pick what they felt would be best for their child. Compare that to the merely nine percent that actually do opt to send their child to private school.

Kentuckians want better public schools or they want charter schools or to be able to send their child to a nice, private school. But they want to spend less money to achieve this. “Seven out of ten voters say Kentucky’s level of public school funding is either “about right” or “too high.” Seven out of ten also underestimated how much their public school system actually spends per student.

The School Choice Survey investigated public opinion on the most salient of K-12 education system alternatives: charter schools, tax credits, and vouchers. The only one of these options that received more nays than yays was, not entirely surprisingly, virtual schools.

Charter schools are still technically public schools but with less government regulation. Only a little over half of respondents were at least somewhat familiar with the concept of a charter school, but still everyone gave their opinion. More than half were in favor of charter schools.

As an alternative to different types of schools, some innovative tax credit options have been proposed. One is giving a tax credit for parents’ expenditures on school-related expenses. Alternatively, there is the “tax-credit scholarship system” for those who “contribute money to nonprofit organizations that distribute private school scholarships.” Public opinion was split basically down the middle for and against, with just a few dozen more people in favor than were opposed.

“School vouchers allow parents the option of sending their children to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private/independent. If this policy were adopted, tax dollars currently allocated to a school district would be allocated to parents in the form of a ‘school voucher’ to help pay tuition for the school where they choose to send their child.” The public opinion results followed the same trend of being split with only a slight majority in favor of vouchers. Before that question was asked, only about half of respondents admitted to being at least “somewhat familiar” with school vouchers. Consequently, more than a third of those respondents were basing their opinion on very little information, probably quite a bit from what they learned for the question itself.

Public opinion seems to support any alternative to the status quo. Unfortunately, a good proportion of the people responding knew very little about each of these options.

It is also very unlikely, at this point, that public officials have any motivation to change the status quo. When it comes down to the ballot box, it does not seem to make much difference if a representative supports something like the tax-credit scholarships. While 17% of respondents said it would make them more likely to vote for a pro-tax-credit candidate, a similar 11% said it would make them less likely, and everyone else either was not sure or said it would not make a difference to them at all.

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.


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