Millennials want school choice, too

Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Guest columnist

New polling indicates that not only are policies empowering parents to decide how, what and where their children learn more popular than ever, but the support school choice enjoys across political, demographic and geographical spectrums reveals that educational freedom isn’t just about helping minority students escape failing urban schools.

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Giving parents more educational opportunities for their children is supported by over two-thirds of white and rural respondents to a new survey of 1,200 likely voters conducted for the American Federation for Children by Beck Research, a respected Democratic polling firm whose previous clients include the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and parent organization of the Kentucky Education Association – both of which are stubborn opponents of school choice.

But it’s not just older white American voters in rural areas that want educational choices available to families; 75 percent of millennials and 64 percent of suburban voters support more options for parents.

Neither is the clamor for more choices from white right-wing Republicans.   

Beck’s polling shows 56 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Latinos and 69 percent of political independents back choice, suggesting that the search for educational alternatives has expanded beyond the single minority parent in the big city.

Vicki Alger, Ph.D., a nationally recognized school-choice expert, observes that the increasing support for alternatives coupled with a growing number of programs, including tax credit scholarships, which engage both businesses and individuals in creating additional funding to allow students to attend private schools who otherwise would not be able to, education savings accounts for the learning-disabled and more innovative and successful public charter schools suggests parents increasingly view choice as “a pathway into schools offering better fits for students based on their unique individual needs.” 

Yet while more than half of all states have multitudes of choices, which give thousands of children at least the opportunity of getting a better – and better-fitted – education, Kentuckians currently have no access to such programs.

“Education systems like Kentucky’s that largely ration options based on where a child’s parents can afford to live are relics of a bygone era,” Alger wrote recently on Facebook. “Such systems cannot provide the customized learning opportunities students need. Parents want – and their children deserve – educational options that are as unique as they are.”

Federal government data suggests that many parents, while seemingly resigned to local education bureaucrats sporting nanny state-type titles like “student assignment director” deciding how, what and where their children learn wouldn’t choose such a traditional public school if given alternatives.   

The federal Digest of Education Statistics reports 69 percent of America’s K-12 students in 2016 attended public schools but only 19 percent of their families would choose a regular public school.

This meshes with a survey conducted by EdChoice of 1,200 Kentuckians a decade ago that found around 91 percent of Kentucky’s K-12 students attended regular public schools, but given a choice, only 13 percent of parents said they would choose such schools for their children.

It’s no wonder when Kentucky families can look across the river into Ohio, where families have access to 10 different private-school choice programs in addition to a revived and robust public charter-school program.

Critics’ rancor often reaches apoplectic levels regarding school-choice programs offering the prospect of private education to students who, without financial help, would never have such an opportunity.

Warnings that pro-school-choice policies will mark the beginning of education apocalypse in Kentucky often accompany their seething.

However, states with such programs – some going back more than a quarter century to America’s first charter school – not only aren’t experiencing falling skies but instead are enjoying the kind of economic growth Kentucky could only dream about in the past.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.