The February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll asked battery of questions about public education policy that included two items related to vouchers that provide context for the March 21 Senate Education Committee hearings on SB 3, the omnibus voucher/school schoice bill sponsoered by Senator Larry Taylor. The bill, which is the vehicle for Lt. Governor Patrick's efforts to introduce more private options into the k-12 education system, includes a form of educational savings accounts as well as scholarship set asides that parents can use for private school options. Below are some key results on the questions we asked, followed by brief comments Josh Blank and I wrote about the results shortly after the poll was released.
The poll asked people to rate the effectiveness of various proposals, including vouchers, in improving public education.
|Not very effective||16%|
|Not at all effective||19%|
|Not very effective||16%||19%||13%|
|Not at all effective||35%||23%||6%|
|Not very effective||16%||21%||11%|
|Not at all effective||46%||19%||6%|
|Not very effective||16%||17%||7%|
|Not at all effective||37%||6%||3%|
The poll also asked respondents to choose the most effective among the ideas they rated.
|Creating a school voucher program||13%|
|Expanding the number of charter schools||7%|
|Increasing the pay of public school teachers||13%|
|Increasing funding for the public school system||20%|
|Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession||8%|
|Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take||21%|
|Increasing opportunities for online learning||4%|
|Grading individual schools on an A-F scale||7%|
|Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs||7%|
|Creating a school voucher program||7%||9%||13%||22%|
|Expanding the number of charter schools||9%||7%||5%||8%|
|Increasing the pay of public school teachers||15%||9%||16%||12%|
|Increasing funding for the public school system||22%||25%||19%||15%|
|Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession||4%||10%||7%||12%|
|Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take||24%||24%||19%||14%|
|Increasing opportunities for online learning||6%||3%||5%||3%|
|Grading individual schools on an A-F scale||7%||6%||7%||8%|
|Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs||7%||8%||7%||6%|
|Creating a school voucher program||2%||11%||40%|
|Expanding the number of charter schools||2%||11%||13%|
|Increasing the pay of public school teachers||18%||13%||3%|
|Increasing funding for the public school system||30%||20%||1%|
|Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession||11%||6%||3%|
|Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take||17%||21%||23%|
|Increasing opportunities for online learning||5%||4%||2%|
|Grading individual schools on an A-F scale||3%||10%||12%|
|Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs||11%||5%||2%|
From shortly after the poll was released.
2. Vouchers by any other name are still a hard sell in Texas. The results from our education battery provide useful context for the current tensions in the Texas legislature over school vouchers, choice, scholarships, etc. School vouchers, called exactly that, are tied with reducing the number of tests as the measures seen as most effective by Republicans. Yet the share of Republicans that think increasing spending, either in the system overall or targeted to teachers, actually slightly exceeds the share that favors vouchers. It's not surprising that a Senate prioritizing a voucher-by-another-name approach and a House searching for ways to re-approach school funding seem at loggerheads. There is a constituency for each in their party. The two items that probe opinions on vouchers reveal an interesting facet of Republican responses to subject. When we use the term voucher in the context of the potential for improving public education in Texas, Republicans embrace the idea by a wide margin (61%-19%), amidst the predictable level of Democratic opposition (32%-51%). But when we ask about the underlying policy of voucher or voucher-like programs -- redirecting state tax revenue to parents to pay for private or parochial schools -- Republican support drops (46%-33%) amidst even deeper Democratic opposition, and other cleavages (like the urban-rural divide) are more activated. The results suggest that the determination among voucher advocates to purge the use of the word "voucher" is aimed more at gaining non-Republican support. They also illustrate the rationale for legislatively tortuous efforts to build a policy that attempts to redirect dollars destined for the state before they are actually taken in as public funds.