Schooling in America Series: How Different Regions View Choice

In 2022, we at EdChoice mark the 10th year of the Schooling in America (SIA) survey, our annual national poll of the general public and parents of school-age children conducted in collaboration with Braun Research. Our survey has tracked public opinion on educational choice policies since 2013, and it focuses on Americans’ educational priorities, satisfaction with K–12 education, opinions on educational choice policies, and a myriad of other crucial K–12 education topics.

We survey people living in each of the four geographic regions. Being able to track levels of support and awareness of school choice programs among the regions can provide clarity, but it can also segway into important questions that need to be asked. For example, southerners are towards the top in terms of support for the school choice programs yet are much more likely to have never heard of some of the programs. That level of support from the south is significant, but it is fair to wonder if the support levels will continue to grow as southerners become more aware of school choice.

Altogether, this information makes SIA a valuable resource for learning how people living in each region of the country view educational choice and other K–12 matters.

The US Census Bureau splits the 50 states into four regions: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. The breakdown of which states belong to each region looks like this:

Here are four trends that stood out:

Southerners are the least likely group to have heard about school choice.

In one of our newer questions, we ask respondents whether they favor, oppose, or have never heard of “school choice.” In last year’s survey, southerners were the most aware of school choice, with only 19 percent saying they had never heard of school choice. This year, however, southerners completed reversed course. Nearly one in four (23%) southerners reported being unaware of school choice, making them the least likely region to have heard about school choice, while the other three regions’ respondents either remained steady or increased in their awareness of school choice.

Southerners being the most unaware of school choice was affirmed when we asked about particular school choice policies as well. We also ask respondents whether they have heard of education savings accounts (ESAs), school vouchers, and charter schools. When discussing education savings accounts, 33 percent of Southerners reported never hearing of ESAs. Similar to the initial question about school choice, Southerners were the most likely to have never heard of ESAs. We observed the same trend for awareness of vouchers and charter schools too. Southerners were the most unaware group when asked about vouchers and charter schools at 27 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Southerners’ lack of awareness with vouchers is especially interesting when you consider that 41% of the school voucher programs in our country reside in southern states.

School choice is popular in the Midwest.

Midwesterners appreciation of school choice in our 2022 version of Schooling in America can be looked at from many angles, but let’s start with the simplest one. Nearly two-thirds of Midwesterners favor school choice. Not only is that a 7-point increase from last year, but Midwesterners favor school choice at a much higher rate than the other regions.

Looking at school choice broadly is one angle, but what about specific policies like ESAs, vouchers, and charter schools? Starting with ESAs, more than 80 percent of Midwesterners support the policy. That figure is not only the highest among the regions, but it is the highest level of support for ESAs from Midwesterners we have observed to date.

Voucher support paints a similar picture. Roughly 75 percent of Midwesterners are in favor of vouchers, the highest level of support for vouchers we have observed in our decade of Schooling in America surveys. Voucher support from Midwesterners increased sharply in 2022 (8 points), making the Midwest region the most supportive of the policy. Charter schools and tax-credit scholarships also receive high levels of support from the Midwest at 65 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Northeasterners are the most optimistic about the direction of K-12 education in America.

Nearly four in 10 Northeasterners believe K–12 education in America is heading in the right direction. For comparison, roughly one-third of southerners and westerners are optimistic about the direction of K-12 education, while only three in ten Midwesterners are optimistic about the direction of K–12 education. Northeasterners have expressed the most optimism when it comes to the educational landscape for three out of the last four years.

People living in the northeast are the most likely to have heard of ESAs, vouchers, and charter schools. Northeasterners’ awareness of such school choice programs translates to high favorability. Roughly two-thirds of Northeasterners support vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and charter schools. ESAs are especially popular with Northeasterners, with 74 percent saying they are in favor of the policy.

ESAs are the new wave.

The last month has provided several major successes for Arizona families, West Virginia families, and the broader school choice movement. How so? The West Virginia Supreme Court ordered that the Hope Scholarship Program may begin in January 2023. Equally as exciting, Arizona recently passed an expansion to their Empowerment Scholarship Account program to make it accessible for every student in the state. The southern (yes, the census bureau categorizes West Virginia as part of the south) and western regions of the country are very supportive of ESAs, with each region at roughly 75 percent support for ESAs. Notably, when it comes to awareness of ESAs, Southerners (33%) and Westerners (31%) are the most likely to never have heard of ESAs. Perhaps we will see these numbers decrease after the recent success with ESAs in Arizona and West Virginia. My colleague John Kristof provides a deeper dive into ESAs that can be found here.

See all of the new interactive charts, the full report, questionnaire and toplines, and methodology and data sources on our Schooling in America Polling Dashboard.