Michigan Mirrors National Trends
Three polls conducted in 1998 found that a majority of citizens, both in Michigan and across the country, support expanded parental choice in education.
The polls explored the public's perception of school voucher and tuition tax credit plans designed to help families afford a choice of schools beyond the tax-funded charter schools and traditional public schools to which school districts assign students.
Two of the polls, Michigan State University's State of the State Survey (SOSS) and a Detroit Free Press/Ferris State University survey, were conducted in Michigan. The third, The 30th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools, was conducted nationally.
The SOSS, released in May 1998, found that African-Americans, low-income earners, and urban residents were most likely to support greater parental choice in education. While 59 percent of all respondents favored a voucher plan to have "the state pay all or part of the tuition" to a private/parochial school, 65 percent of African-Americans and 66 percent of household earners with annual incomes under $20,000 were in favor of it. Opposed were 37 percent of all respondents, but only 28 percent of African-Americans and 25 percent of those in low-income households.
The demographic groups most opposed to vouchers were whites, members of households with incomes over $80,000, and suburban residents.
The Detroit Free Press/Ferris State University poll found that 57 percent of respondents favored school vouchers while 33 percent opposed them and 64 percent were in favor of tuition tax credits but only 30 percent were opposed. This demonstrates a significant shift of opinion from just three years ago, according to Ed Sarpolous of EPIC/MRA, the Lansing-based polling firm that conducted the survey. Less than 50 percent of citizens favored vouchers in 1995, he said.
The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, conducted every year since 1968, revealed a similar national trend of increasingly favorable opinions toward parental choice in education. In 1993, only 24 percent of those polled were in favor of vouchers. The 1996 poll showed only 43 percent in favor. In 1998, a majority of respondents, 51 percent, favored using public money for private education.
The poll also found that 39 percent of public school parents would choose a private or church-related school if they were given the option, while 73 percent would favor a tuition tax credit to help them afford such alternatives. Tuition tax credits were favored by 66 percent of all respondents, while 30 percent were opposed.
Nonwhite respondents were most likely to favor tuition tax credits (71 percent) and Democrats and Republicans favored them by 61 percent and 57 percent, respectively.
"Clearly, this is an issue that could affect the future of public schools," pollsters Lowell Rose and Alec Gallup said of the survey.