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Happy with your public school? Neither are most Idahoans.

Happy with your public school? Neither are most Idahoans.

Mitch Coffman
January 7, 2012

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice along with the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation released the results of an in-depth Idaho K-12 school choice survey. Results reveal Idahoans’ disconnect between where their children are enrolled and the kinds of schools they would prefer, the generational differences in attitudes towards school choice, and what Idahoans think about the amount of money spent on public schools.

The poll surveyed 1202 voters statewide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. (In comparison, most presidential preference polls survey between 500-1000 people.) It surveyed slightly more than 500 voters in each of Boise-Nampa, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls.

There is a serious disparity between where Idahoans’ children go to school and where they would like to have them enrolled. Although fewer than four percent of Idaho’s k-12 students are enrolled in private schools, 27 percent of voters say private schools are their first choice. 22 percent would choose charter schools first and eight percent, given their druthers, would home school. In a state where 92 percent of k-12 students attend a regular public school, only 38 percent of Idaho voters would choose a regular public school first.

Idahoans’ unhappiness with the education status quo also showed up in the 51 percent of Idaho voters who ranked the public school system as “fair” or “poor.” 57 percent of Idaho voters think k-12 education is on the wrong track. On the other hand, Idaho voters support school choice: 69 percent are in favor of charter schools, 60 percent support tax-credit scholarship programs, 56 percent support vouchers and 53 percent support education savings accounts.

Interestingly, older folks are less unhappy with public schools. Of voters over age 50, only 54 percent thought education has gotten off on the wrong track, 47 percent thought the system is fair or poor and 42 percent would make the regular public school system their first choice. The 50-and-overs also had the lowest favorable attitudes towards choice. It is impossible to tell whether these are generational or stage-of-life differences, but it will be interesting to see if today’s younger generations remain in favor of school choice, or if they become less tolerant of it as they grow older.

In news that should concern those whose solution to public education’s woes is always “more money,” when Idahoans learn how much is spent per pupil, more than half think it’s sufficient. In 2008-2009, $7118 was the average amount spent per child in Idaho’s public schools. The survey asked half of the respondents whether per-pupil funding level is too low, just right or too high without revealing the actual spending number. 57 percent of those respondents thought funding is too low. However, after revealing the $7118 per-pupil spending amount to the other half, only 47 percent thought it was too low. Knowledge informs rational decision-making, which is why the education establishment would rather not talk about the amount of money we actually spend on education.

Finally, four out of ten Idaho voters say “state government” is most responsible for their views on public education, which surpassed the influences of school boards, parents and teachers. It’s something lawmakers should keep in mind during the 2012 legislative session as they contemplate the school choices Idahoans want.

Idaho Freedom Foundation
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