Friedman Foundation Finds that Iowans Support School Choice

Transcending Partisan Views on Choice

From the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

By Paul DiPerna

They do things differently in Iowa.  And I mean they do so in a refreshing way.

As I have talked with folks there, it is easy to pick up a “we are in this together” attitude when it comes to public education.  And the idea of “public education” does not have to be defined by inputs and sources of funding revenue. Rather, I get the impression public education means everyone can contribute to a worthy public good—district schools, charter schools, private schools, homeschoolers, and so on. Everyone can contribute to progress.

This week we released our Iowa K-12 and School Choice Survey, and we learned what Iowa voters think about education in their state.

Four findings in our poll come together for an appealing overarching message:

1. Iowans are very positive and supportive of the state’s public schools, more so than all other states where we have conducted these voter surveys with the exception of North Dakota.

2. Our survey respondents rated local private schools even more favorably with As and Bs than the public schools. Private schools are also held in high esteem.

3. There is a significant disconnect between voters’ school preferences and actual enrollment patterns in the state. Iowans want a range of school options.

4. Iowa voters are more likely to favor—rather than oppose—school choice reforms like education savings accounts (ESAs), school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and charter schools.

Mechanisms like these look good to Iowans if they can open up access to more public and private schooling options.

  • 48 percent favor ESAs vs. 38 percent opposition
  • 54 percent favor school vouchers vs. 38 percent opposition
  • 58 percent favor tax-credit scholarships vs. 29 percent opposition
  • 50 percent favor charter schools vs. 25 percent opposition

The big message from Iowa flies in the face of a lot of what we see in the blogs and headlines: If you support education reform, you must bash public schools; or if you are a public school advocate, you must be anti-reform or anti-voucher.

The Iowa message is this: You can support local public schools, vouchers, education savings accounts, and other school choice reforms all at the same time. It is okay. Support for these things are not mutually exclusive.

In 2006, Iowa showed the rest of the country how a purple state can get things done in a bipartisan way to enact a school choice law.

The School Tuition Organization Tax Credit was signed into law by then-Gov. Tom Vilsack (D). Prior to that signing ceremony, the legislation passed with the help of both parties in the House (75-19) and sailed through the Senate (49-1). Republicans and Democrats, alike, passed a tax-credit scholarship program that today serves more than 10,000 students.

Based on the poll results we’ve just released—and the value placed on public schools, private schools, and school choice policies—we may yet see more policies in Iowa that elevate the importance of giving more schooling options and leverage to families.