Tuesday, January 12, 2016

78 percent of Mississippi voters favor school choice

[]Steve Wilson - Mississippi Watchdog

In a recent poll commissioned by pro-school choice group Empower Mississippi, registered voters in Mississippi overwhelmingly supported school choice.

The poll completed by Virginia-based On Message Inc. found that 78 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed said they supported school choice, with 83 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats in favor.

The poll also found that 69 percent of respondents would support a pro-school choice candidate, 57 percent favored charter schools, 56 percent favored the educational savings account program that is now available only to parents with special needs children and 58 percent support expanding it for all parents.

Grant Callen, president and founder of Empower Mississippi, said the poll reflected his view that a silent majority of Mississippians favored school choice.
“The most compelling thing to me was the diversity,” Callen said. “Show me another issue where it’s across party lines. African-Americans support it by 73 percent.

“Most political issues, like abortion, gay marriage and guns, you name it, controversial issues, you’ll see Republicans very supportive and Democrats very opposed. And then you flip them on another issue. This one is not like that. It’s not a partisan issue.”

When asked to assign an overall letter grade to Mississippi public schools, 57 percent of respondents gave them a grade of C or worse. Forty-four percent of participants graded their local schools as C or worse.
Callen said his organization has several key goals for the legislative session, including expansion of the state’s fledgling ESA program, allowing students to cross district lines to attend charter schools in other districts and appointed rather than elected school superintendents.

While the vote on the ESA legislation passed last year was a tight one, the poll might convince skeptical legislators that a vote for school choice might be in their electoral interest. Empower’s political action committee helped defeat four anti-school choice legislators in DeSoto County in last year’s GOP primary. The poll showed why the four were defeated, as 73 percent surveyed in the Memphis media market (where DeSoto County is located) said they’d favor a pro-school choice candidate.

“Anecdotally, we’ve always known there’s been support (for school choice),” Callen said. “Once you get beyond the education establishment, superintendents, principals and administrators, it’s undeniable. We’ve known it from talking to parents for years, but the poll proved it. It helps encourage legislators that it’s not as controversial as previously thought.”