Thursday, August 24, 2006

Voucher support weaker, poll finds

August 23, 2006

Voucher support weaker, poll finds
Question, used since the '90s, was slanted in Gallup survey for educators, critics say
By Staci Hupp
August 23, 2006

Public support for sending children to private schools at taxpayer expense has eroded at a time when more states have paved the way for vouchers, says a poll by an international professional educators' group.
Critics moved quickly to dismiss the report as a political ploy.

About 36 percent of Americans polled by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International, which is based in Bloomington, backed the voucher concept this year. The number plunged from nearly 1 in 2 Americans who supported vouchers in 2002.

Sixty percent of the 1,000 poll participants this year said they oppose vouchers, up slightly from last year.

"I think the answer is that what people want at the present time is to help the kids in the schools that we have," said Lowell Rose, a poll author who also lobbies for the Indiana Urban Schools Association, a vocal opponent of vouchers. "And that is not a good climate for vouchers."

Vouchers have caught on in many states as an option, particularly for poor students in failing public schools, but legislative attempts to launch them in Indiana have failed. The issue is expected to surface again in the next General Assembly, which begins in January.

Critics say vouchers siphon money from public schools, violate the constitutional separation between church and state and threaten to ruin the prestige of private schools. In Indiana, critics have ranged from public school supporters to lobbyists for Jewish Hoosiers.

Voucher supporters took aim at the poll, released Tuesday.

Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation officials said the voucher question was "slanted in a way that would encourage respondents to oppose choice."

The question -- "Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?" -- has not changed since the poll findings showed growing support for vouchers in the 1990s, Rose said.
Robert Fanger, a Friedman Foundation spokesman, described Phi Delta Kappa as having "a vested interest in preserving the status quo" and said polls from the news media, including USA Today and CNN, showed majority support for vouchers.

About 21 percent of respondents gave the nation's schools an A or B grade. Nearly half, however, gave their own local schools high marks.

• Those who want the school day extended by an hour jumped from more than a third in 1982 to 67 percent.

• Support has jumped for charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but have more flexibility with curriculum and hiring than public schools. About 53 percent approved of charter schools, up from 42 percent six years ago. But the public has a foggy perception of charters. About half said they are not public schools -- they are -- and that they are free to teach religion -- they're not.

• Twenty-four percent said the biggest problem in public schools is a shortage of money, not crowded classrooms, lack of discipline or drugs.

• Thirty-nine percent said schools focus too much on testing. The percentage was higher -- 45 percent -- among public school parents.

Source: Phi Delta Kappa

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