Florida voters want school choice expansion, survey says

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Nearly three-quarters are in favor of Ron DeSantis' ESA expansion plan.

There’s a heated debate over expanding school choice every Legislative Session, but a new survey shows voters aren’t as divided as the lawmakers who represent them.

A new survey from the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) found 78 percent of Florida voters believe parents should be able to decide where their children go to school, not ZIP codes. Only 22 percent disagreed.

“The vast majority of voters — nearly 80 percent — believe parents should have education choices for their children,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd. “Access to opportunity matters, and parents know it.”

The ExcelinEd poll, conducted Jan. 23-25, also asked voters for their opinion on other education issues, including the state’s current crop of school choice scholarship programs.

All earned high marks with voters, but the Voluntary Pre-K program took the crown — nearly nine out of 10 polled said they supported that endeavor.

The Gardiner Scholarship program — the signature legislative accomplishment of former Senate President Andy Gardiner — was nearly as popular. Florida voters said they supported the program, which program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to disabled students, by an 84-7 margin.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarships have the support by three-quarters of those polled, with 16 percent opposed.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a plan to create an “Equal Opportunity Scholarship” to help the 14,000 students on the waitlist for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships program.

The program would have a 14,000-student cap initially, with the governor’s office saying it would increase by an additional one percent of statewide public school enrollment each year.

Despite the proposal drawing the ire of Florida Democrats, voters said they were interested in expanding Education Scholarship Accounts. Though the poll was conducted prior to DeSantis’ announcement, 72 percent said they’re in favor of an expansion compared to 17 percent who said they’re opposed.

Of the 72 percent in favor, 40 percent said they “strongly support” the plan and 32 percent said they “somewhat support” it. The opposition split was with 11 percent marked down as “somewhat oppose” and 6 percent as “strongly oppose.”

The top reasons those in favor of an ESA expansion were “equal opportunity for all students” (27 percent), “more focus and attention to individual student needs” (26 percent), and “access to better education options” (24 percent).

Top of this list for those in opposition was that the ESA plan “diverts funding/students away from public schools” (40 percent) and that it would benefit “unaccountable private providers” (20 percent).

Other findings related to the ESA expansion proposal:

— 55 percent of voters say all students should be eligible for scholarships, regardless of family income; 31 percent say the scholarships should be available to low- and middle-class families; and 14 percent say the program should be open to only low-income students.

— 51 percent say scholarship amounts shouldn’t be tied to family income, while 49 percent say financial need should be a factor.

— 51 percent say there should not be a cap on the number of scholarships, while 26 percent say there should be a “modest cap,” 8 percent want a “tight cap” and 15 percent were unsure.

— If there is a cap on scholarships, 43 percent want it to grow slowly based on demand, 27 percent would favor eliminating it after a few years and 10 percent say they would want the cap to remain as is.

The ExcelinEd survey was conducted Jan. 23-25 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.54 percentage points.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


6 comments

  • TED

    February 22, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    “School choice” is just a sham cover-up. The primary problem in Florida public schools is (1.) ineffective parenting and (2.) nearly non-existent in-school discipline. Without a proper ‘learning environment’ … very little learning actually takes place.

  • chris guerrieri

    February 22, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    Mr. Wilson the survey was completely biased. How do you report as if it had any validity. This is embarrassing. I am embarrassed for you.

  • Susan Aertker

    February 23, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Do you think the survey questions were fairly written? Does the organization excel in ed have their own agenda? Did they do the survey themselves?

    I wish some of the survey questions would have been:

    1. What would you choose given these two choices for the children of Florida:
    a. Vouchers that don’t pay 100% of the tuition to a private school
    b. Excellent neighborhood schools that the children of Florida can attend for free

    2. If you were a poor working parent, which would you prefer
    a. My child attend an excellent neighborhood school within walking distance or with transportation provided
    b. My child attend a school in a rich neighborhood even if I have to provide the transportation
    c. Vouchers to subsidize the tuition to a private school even if I had to provide transportation and the voucher didn’t fully fund the tuition.

    2. Would you prefer that the neighborhood schools be abolished and every parent be responsible for the tuition of their child?

    3. Are you OK with tax money being used for religious schools even IF your religion didn’t offer a school?

    4. Do you support more programs (social workers, tutors) that would help children succeed in school?

    5. If the facts are that vouchers and charters drain money from the neighborhood schools so that the school buildings are dilapidated and there is not enough funds for support staff, would you still be in favor of vouchers and charters?

    6. Do you see value in having an educated public? If yes, do you think the federal government should help fund neighborhood schools so that every neighborhood school is excellent?

    7. What level of funding do you think schools in poor neighborhoods should get compared to the funding of schools in rich neighborhoods?
    a. the same
    b. more
    c. less

    8. What do you think the best option for offering education to kids with severe disabilities is?
    a. Don’t offer free public education, instead offer vouchers that will help subsidize the tuition.
    b. Offer both free options in the public schools and vouchers even if it cost more taxpayer money.
    c. Offer only free options. Private school options would be available but the taxpayer wouldn’t fund them.

    9. Would you like a study to be done to see if parallel school options cost the taxpayers more? IF yes, then would you support charters and vouchers even IF it turned out they cost the taxpayers more than just offering excellent neighborhood schools?

    10. Do you think public schools in some neighborhoods are better? If yes, why do you think that?
    a. Property taxes help pay for the schools so richer neighborhoods have more funding
    b. Richer neighborhoods have parents that get more involved in the schools and that makes them better
    c. Some neighborhoods have kids that care more about learning and that makes the whole atmosphere of the school better
    d. Some schools attract better teachers

  • Rosemarie Jensen

    February 23, 2019 at 10:28 am

    The responses above cover it. FEE has an agenda… destroy neighborhood public schools and decimate the teaching profession. The quality isn’t going to improve by attracting temps and barely qualified baby sitters. Won’t matterwhere you send your child. The majority of parents want to walk and ride a bike to a neighborhood school in their community that is fully funded to meet the needs of all the children. Disrupting communities makes people more disconnected and desperate which is right where the power brokers want us. Funding three systems is not going to help anyone except subsidize the wealthy parents who can already afford to pay to segregate their children from the middle and working classes.

  • Anne Hartley

    February 25, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    This school choice marketing piece is no better than opinion. They didn’t publish methods. Did they survey their mailing list or a stratified random sample of FL parents? Public school parents are underrepresented. Journalists should ask questions, not accept at face value.

  • Nick Guy

    February 25, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    This “poll” isn’t worth the paper it was fabricated on. Serious question…was this article written at their urging or with anything in return? I’m having a hard time deciphering between legitimate news articles and hired-gun marketing pieces on this site. No offense. We all have to make a living. Just wished people would consider the living teachers are barely making doing the most important job in our state.

Comments are closed.


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