A survey released Monday by a foundation advocating for school vouchers says Indiana voters are more likely than voters surveyed in six other states to say public schools are on the wrong track and would choose private schools if they could.
Lawmakers should take the results into account as they prepare to consider major educational reform that could include expanding school choice, said Robert Enlow, president and chief executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
The Indianapolis-based foundation, which commissioned the study, is a proponent of vouchers that let families redirect state money from their school districts to private schools to cover tuition costs for their children.
“This isn’t about a specific legislative issue,” Enlow said. “What matters is voters all across the country want to see options in every state.”
A majority of Hoosiers surveyed said education in the state was “on the wrong track” and favored options such as vouchers and charter schools.
Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the results conflict with past surveys his union has commissioned.
“I wouldn’t agree with those findings,” he said. “Those numbers aren’t the kinds of numbers we have seen in our polling, which shows more than two-thirds of Hoosiers are satisfied with their local public schools.”
The Friedman survey, though, provides ammunition for Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who are pushing the legislature to give parents more education options for their children, including vouchers to pay for private school tuition.
“I’m encouraged that it appears to be that large numbers of Americans agree that we ought to be empowering people and trusting them to decide which public school — regular or charter — or even a nongovernment school their child goes to,” Daniels told reporters at the Statehouse on Monday.
“Polls don’t really matter to me. It’s a matter of justice, fairness and particularly doing right by the people of modest means in this state.”
The survey found that support for vouchers dropped if the programs were aimed only at those with lower incomes. Daniels, though, said that “after looking at this from every angle, I’ve decided — and Superintendent Bennett has agreed — that what we put forward ought to be tilted toward those who don’t have much money and need the help most.”
The foundation’s survey was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 registered Indiana voters. It was conducted in November by Braun Research and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Extra calls were made in several areas of the state to determine local responses.
Similar surveys using the same questions were conducted in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York.
Of the seven states, Indiana had the lowest percentage of respondents who said their state’s education system was moving in the right direction.
New York was the only state with a higher percentage who said they’d choose private schools for their children if they had the option.