School choice has long been a topic of debate among those concerned with American education. Should the government have a monopoly over education? Or should Americans instead be allowed to use vouchers to send their children to schools that could compete with the government’s public school system? Paul DiPerna of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently interviewed 1,200 “likely” Nebraskan voters to see how residents of the state feel about issues with education, including school choice. The study has a 95% confidence level.
DiPerna’s study found that Nebraska’s Democrats, Republicans, and Independents often agree on key points regarding education. As an example, as many as 52% of Democrats, 53% of Independents, and 59% of Republicans in Nebraska support tax-credit scholarships. Eighty-four percent of total voters claimed to prefer a system that would allow parents to choose between public schools, private schools, charter and virtual schools, and homeschooling. Approximately 55% of Nebraskan voters say they generally favor school vouchers—and this number increases among Independent voters, two-thirds of whom support the idea. According to DiPerna, “Three times as many voters say they prefer a private school (48%) rather than a regular public school (10%). And among voters who claim to prefer private schools, a full 57% would prefer to send their children to religious private schools rather than non-religious ones.
DiPerna includes information about regional responses, explaining that voter location in the state appears to influence the responses: people in the southern region of Nebraska tend to be more supportive of the public school system than people in the northern region, for example, and voters from suburbia are typically happier with public schools than voters from urban and rural areas. DiPerna also notes that “families with household incomes between $25,000 and $75,000 are much less positive than other income groups” when it comes to public schooling.
DiPerna asked voters to describe the greatest challenges they see to Nebraska’s public school system. The top three challenges listed were:
• lack of accountability (29%);
• overcrowding in schools (23%); and
• poor parental engagement (21%).
DiPerna points out that while only 16% of parents “said they would choose a regular public school for their child,” almost 90% of Nebraskan students are enrolled in public schools. He notes that while over a tenth of Nebraskan parents would like send their children to charter schools, Nebraska has yet to enact a charter school law. “An overarching theme emerging out of the survey results is a major disconnect between parental schooling preferences and actual school enrollments,” DiPerna concludes.