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Strong support for charter public schools, education tax credits, vouchers for students in failing schools and repeal of bigoted anti-aid amendments

BOSTON – Whether in the form of charter public schools, vouchers for students in failing schools, or programs under which corporations and individuals receive tax credits for charitable contributions that fund school choice options, likely Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly support educational choice, according to a poll conducted by David Paleologos’ firm, DAPA Research, for Pioneer Institute.

School Choice Survey

More than three quarters (76 percent) of those surveyed believe less affluent families should have access to options other than their local public school. A similar majority (77 percent) say students who don’t respond well to traditional schooling should have access to other options.

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Jamie Gass, who directs Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform. “And Massachusetts voters clearly understand that access to educational opportunity is a prerequisite for fully exercising the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in our democracy.”

Over two-thirds (70 percent) of likely voters support charter schools, which are public schools that operate free of local school district control. Broken down by party affiliation, 87 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of independents, and 56 percent of Democrats support charters. Six-out-of-ten support increasing the number of students enrolled in Massachusetts charter schools.

Furthermore, that support jumps to 68 percent among households with children under 18 (55 percent in households without children under 18). More than two-thirds (68 percent) support allowing the families of mostly poor and minority children in failing schools to use part of the money that would have been spent educating their child to send the child to any public, private, or parochial school willing to accept him or her.

When asked about 19th-century amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution that prohibited public money from going to religious schools to limit the growth of Catholic education, a slight majority (51 percent) opposed them. But when told that the so-called anti-aid amendments would essentially eliminate voucher programs that rescue students from failing schools, 63 percent support repeal of the amendments, compared to just 22 percent who oppose repeal.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) support programs that offer tax credits to individuals and corporations that make charitable contributions to fund educational choices. The money goes to organizations that use it to provide scholarships that allow students to attend schools of their choice.

Education tax credit programs, like those in Rhode Island and Florida, that are limited to poorer families are slightly less popular, but still command strong majority support (59 percent).

The survey of 500 likely Massachusetts voters was conducted April 9-12. There is a 95 percent confidence level that the margin of error is within plus or minus 4.4 percent.

In recent years, Pioneer has released a number of research publications on removing the barriers to expanded school choice: • Four Models of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts (March 2012); • Rhode Island Jewish Day Schools and Scholarship Tax Credits (March 2012) • “Be Not Afraid”: A History of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts (March 2011); • Education Tax Credits: A Review of the Rhode Island Program and Assessment of Possibilities in Massachusetts (October 2010); • The Know-Nothing Amendments: Barriers to School Choice in Massachusetts (April 2009); and • School Choice Without Vouchers: Expanding Education Options through Tax Credits (October 2007).

Pioneer op-eds on school choice, the Know-Nothing Amendments, and education tax credit programs have appeared in the Boston Herald (“Tax Credit Key to Broader School Choice,” November 17, 2010 and “Bigotry Impedes School Choice” March 17, 2010), Worcester Telegram & Gazette (“Poor Children Deserve Better,” May 25, 2012; “Expanding Opportunity,” December 8, 2010), the Providence Journal (“Mass. should help poor children attend better schools,” December 19, 2010), Patriot Ledger (“It’s time for another look at education tax credits,” December 22, 2010), and the Lowell Sun (“An education in tax-credit program for Massachusetts,” December 13, 2010).

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