Ep. 241: Monthly Tracker Results – February 2021 - EdChoice

Ep. 241: Monthly Tracker Results – February 2021

March 5, 2021

In this episode, we share key takeaways from our February 2021 wave of polling as reported on our EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker. For more from the full report, visit edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com.

Mike McShane: Hello, welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, and welcome to another installment of our monthly tracker podcast. For those of you who don’t know or need a reminder of it, here at EdChoice—in partnership with Morning Consult—every month we poll a nationally representative sample of Americans. Every quarter we poll a nationally representative sample of teachers and we report out accordingly.
The poll that we are talking about today, and I’m joined by my stellar colleagues and friends of this podcast in discussion, Jen Wagner and John Kristof, this poll was in the field from February 10 – 17, 2021, and it’s a really interesting time to get a snapshot of. The last time the poll was in the field it was right after… Right in inauguration time that the Biden administration was just getting started. We were still in the period of the surge in cases that happened around Christmas time.

But generally speaking, it seems like things in America have calmed down a little bit. Our politics has calmed down a little bit, it seems like thankfully through some combination of things that we don’t fully understand yet. A lot of the coronavirus cases are on the way down. Kids are going back to school. I mean, it seems like somewhat of a return to normal times and so it’s a great time to get this poll in the field. And one of the great things about our poll taking these monthly snapshots is grafting them back onto all of the things that happened during those time periods and saying, “Oh, wow, was that reflected in public opinion? Was it not?”
And I want to direct everybody to the website, we put this up, edchoice.morningconsult.com, check out the full slides. As usual we’re only going to be able to talk about a small fraction of the things that are up there, but the graphics folks at Morning Consult have started putting together some really, really interesting longitudinal graphs where some of these questions that we’ve been asking for basically a year now, you can really see these trends. And we’ll be talking about some today obviously in the auditory sense, pardon the pun.

But just speaking of this longitudinal stuff, one of the questions that we’ve looked at every month is the classic survey question, right track, wrong track, right direction. And interestingly, I think when we had this conversation about last month’s poll we were looking at the nadir, the lowest we had recorded positive sentiment, and we saw a little bit of an uptick.

So Jen, when you look at those trend numbers, and maybe if we talk about the nationwide, we’re up. The low point back in January was at 22% of respondents saying that was in the right direction, it’s up to 28%. I don’t actually have the exact numbers of January but your states, people talking about their state is up to 33% from I think around 30, and the local school district is up to 35% from, it looks like 33 or so. So nationwide, it’s a six-point. Maybe it’s a little smaller for local, but all three are trending in the positive direction. Can you make sense of that for me?

Jen Wagner: Well, thanks, Mike. I’ll do my best. I think what we’re seeing, and it’s important to know, we’re still down below where we were pre-pandemic in March of last year when the local approval rating was around 41%, now it’s at 35% people who think we’re on the right tracks, which means a lot of people think we’re on the wrong track. So we’re still not really hitting it out of the park but what I think we’re seeing in this month results are just that optimism that you alluded to, our politics has calmed down, you’ve got more vaccines potentially coming online, more supply there, people generally feeling better.

Quite honestly, I mean, I live here in Indiana and we’ve had some nicer weather, there’s more sunshine. I think you’re just seeing a general reflection among the public of, OK, maybe the worst is behind us. And maybe we’re also starting to see schools reopening in-person for at least a few days a week. In some places you’re seeing some states where they’re mandating that that’s a five day a week thing. So, I think generally speaking people are just feeling better about things and that’s reflected in this month’s results.

Mike McShane: Yeah. John, another thing that we see, again, this question that we’ve asked since the outbreak of the pandemic or at least for the past few months, which is, “Based on what you’ve seen read or heard about the coronavirus how comfortable are you with your children returning to school right now?” We saw a pretty, not a huge, but an interesting shift right now. Fifty percent of respondents said that they were comfortable so that’s a combination of someone in a very comfortable. And only 46% said that they were uncomfortable. So from January, that number—the uncomfortable—is down five and comfortable is up four. We basically saw a reversal of those two positions this month. Do you think is that a case numbers are down thing, is that a vaccine thing, is it a something else thing, is it a public messaging? What do you think is explaining that?

John Kristof: As with many things I think that there’s a myriad of factors. I do think vaccines are going to play a part of this for a lot of people. I would be hesitant to put it entirely on vaccines because, although this is the first time that a majority or a slight majority—just over 50%—of parents are comfortable with the idea of their children returning to school right now, it’s the first time that a majority of parents have felt that way since October.

That said, the share who are comfortable have been increasing since the sudden drop in November, and that’s despite COVID cases increasing quite a bit over that November/December, that holiday period. Vaccines aren’t widely distributed yet. I don’t know what the issue is or what the plans are across all states for when teachers are in line to receive vaccines but as far as I understand teachers don’t have them yet. So when we asked the question of are you comfortable right now, I don’t know if vaccines are quite it and I don’t know how related it is to COVID cases, per se.

I’m inclined to tie this more to other kinds of things that we’ve talked about in previous tracker podcasts that parents are tired, if you will, of teaching kids at home and that new normal and it’s something that parents don’t want to happen for very long. And when you’re not very happy with your current situation, alternatives look a little bit better. And the differences are marginal but it’s interesting to see another tick upward here and I’ll be curious if as vaccine rollouts began to accelerate, if this comfort level will increase closer to where it was, closer to the beginning of the pandemic when we weren’t quite sure how long this was going to last.

Mike McShane: Jen, it’s interesting. Morning Consult has put this slide together for us. This may be the first time I think that they’ve done it. So, we’ve been asking this question about how comfortable people are with their kids going back to school since May and they’ve plotted it so you can see the lines over time. And one of the things I thought was really interesting was that it seemed like the peak of comfort—where the most people or at least where people said they were very comfortable—happened in the August/September time period, and then in that November/December, we saw some pretty steep increases in the number of people that were not comfortable.

And since then, it seems like people are getting more comfortable but the slope of the line is not as dramatic. So it’s happening a bit more gradually, people are getting comfortable. Do you think that’s going to continue? Do you think that’s… I mean, but part of it is understanding why do you think that’s happening and where do we think that’s going?

Jen Wagner: Yeah, I do think that we will continue to see that slow growth of comfort over time but as with many things, people seem to lose their faith in the system when it got cold, when the second spike of coronavirus came roaring back with a vengeance and we all, every state saw their numbers just go sky-high, you had more cases in schools, you had schools, and speaking from personal experience, that went from in-person to remote, in-person to remote. And I think there was a fatigue associated with that and it takes time to build that trust back up. That’s what we always say in my line of work. I work in messaging, and trust and reputation you build slowly over time and you can ruin it in an instant. I think what we’re seeing here is that slow arc back towards trust, but because people had such a miserable experience in those colder months back in late 2020, we’re really struggling to get that back on course.

Mike McShane: John, another thing that we’ve been tracking over time and I know actually for our last release of this data, one of our slides went a little bit viral in education world talking about homeschooling. And one of these things we’ve been tracking and we’ve put out graphs of this of the number of people who are much more favorable to homeschooling as a result of the coronavirus, and we saw a huge spike of that. Like in July 43% of respondents said that they were more favorable and it held there for a bit and ticked downward. And in January we saw it hit actually at the lowest level, only 18% were much more favorable. But again, Morning Consult has put together a cool slide for us. It shows all of the responses.

And it turns out, the way I look at it, it seems like a lot of those people who were much more favorable, it’s not that they’re not more favorable to homeschooling now but it’s gone to as softer, somewhat more favorable. Because when I look at this even now, was it in February? 26% of respondents said that they were much more favorable to homeschooling which is basically exactly what it was in March of 2020, but those who are somewhat more favorable back in March of 2020 it was only 29% and now it’s 37%.
Now, those that are not favorable to it are actually basically the same. You have 12% who are somewhat less favorable, which is exactly what it was in March. And we’re, I guess it’s a little increase, 9% are much less favorable versus 5% back in March. As our resident homeschooling insider—we’ll call you the homeschooling insider of the podcast—when you look at this what do you see?

John Kristof: This is one of the weirdest graphs to me to look at over time in that some questions we asked seemed to have some relative levels of consistency. There is so much variation since last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, in the strong favorability of homeschooling. We saw that drop to 18% after such a high peak, the question for me was waiting to see is this going to continue or not? So the bump back up to 26% which is the same level that it was at the beginning of the pandemic is I guess, encouraging to me as a former homeschooler and knowing that people seem to maybe not getting permanently burned out, I suppose.
I do think the real story here needs to be the somewhat more favorable and much more favorable combined the total more favorable because even last month even though strong favorability was down, total favorability was higher than it was back in March. So it’s really helpful to have the visualization in front of me here or not tied back down to the spreadsheets and cross tabs and whatnot.

I also want to point out that something that is interesting. We were talking a little bit before recording how sometimes people seem to be willing to hit “don’t know” to an answer, and other times people are very willing to give their opinions on things that I might expect a lot of people do not know something on. There’s also a lot of variation and “don’t know” on the homeschooling response as well but I think it skews the responses a bit, I don’t know if it skews it or not, it just adds to the variation. I guess overall, something that I take away is that, as you might expect, there’s no more decentralized form of education than homeschooling and everyone’s experiences with home-based education even if it’s through a district school or charter school.
Any other format led by a traditional school, people’s experiences in home-based education are probably just very diverse and maybe vary a lot week to week depending on what their work situation is and what the outdoor situation is. I think it’s interesting that Jen brought up the weather, and I think that does matter a lot. If I can reach back to my homeschooling days, I remember in times when the kids could not go outside was a very different day from the times when the kids could go outside.

And it’s been a bit of a brutal winter and I can imagine even if you’re positive about it, like, man, how much longer is this going to go on? I can see people having a lot of different responses to what’s going on and it can vary even by the season. I’m just going to keep close eyes on this one over time to see some level of normalization that overall homeschooling is seen more positively than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. I think that’s the story.

Mike McShane: The other iteration of homeschooling or a version, a hybrid of homeschooling, another question we asked and we asked it for the first time last month about the percentage of parents who might be interested in going on some kind of hybrid schedule. So lots of families across the country that because of social distancing or whatnot, school districts and private schools moved to a hybrid schedule—spend some time at home in the week and some time at school—the general, I think, consensus among lots of people is that people have been not happy with that. But interestingly, for the second month now we asked the question of what level parents are comfortable or would prefer sending kids back to school part time, some time in school and some time at home?

Now, look, I have a particular interest in this, my new book, Hybrid Homeschooling: A Guide to the Future of Education, comes out on March 14th and is available at your friendly neighborhood online book retailer. So, feel free to check it out. But so we asked this question last month, “Okay, well, maybe some of you have experienced hybrid homeschooling or part-time schooling. Would any of you prefer that in the future?” And I think for those of you that listened to the podcast last month, even me who is ostensibly an expert in this field was super surprised by the percentage of families that said, “No, we actually would prefer that in the future.”

And so we asked the question again this month, so obviously a completely different nationally representative sample of people, and we found basically the same result among school parents. Forty-five percent of school parents, the plurality said they would like to do some mix of home and school. Amongst private school parents it was 64%, almost two thirds of private school parents said they be interested. And to be honest, district parents were the smallest, but it was still 42%. I mean, these are big numbers. Now, again, I’m looking at this and saying, “Wow, I maybe uncovered something that was even more popular.”

I think in the book that I obviously had to send in months ago, I conclude by saying, “Even if a small percentage of American families are interested in this that’s still a big deal.” I mean, we can think of charter schools, or Catholic schools, or big networks of schools are still only 5%, 6% of schools. Now, this is a big number. I don’t know, Jen, I don’t know whether your kids have been doing hybrid or you know folks that have been doing hybrid. Again, what I hear from a lot of it is that it hasn’t been going great but it seems like people might prefer it in the future. What do you make of that?

Jen Wagner: I think of all the slides that we’re covering here and that we’re covering in the larger slide deck that’s on our website, this is the most important one. I agree with John that the homeschooling number that we ask on its own, that timeline is goofy to me. I don’t know what to make of it and I think it’s probably a large part of parents who don’t truly understand homeschooling that is home-based and not led by their school. I think there’s a little confusion in that area where this slide, these results that are post-pandemic we’re asking parents, what do you want to do once things returned back to “normal?”

And what they’re telling us is a little bit shocking. You’ve got that 45% that are wanting at least at this point—now, granted we were obviously asking people to predict the future—but 45% of parents who want to maintain a mix of learning at home and at school. And so my kids we’ve been back in-person for as long as their private school could keep them in-person under local health guidelines which has been frustrating. I have a seventh grader and a third grader, and both of them really enjoy the learning at home when that was available to them. They liked being able to sleep a little bit late especially the 13-year-old. They liked that they could take breaks during the day. They loved that they didn’t have to wear the stuffy, Episcopalian school uniform every day.
And so I think there’s a lot of hope here as ed reformers, as advocates for school of choice, that there could be monumental changes not just to that limited homeschooling or private school environment but that you’ve got a bunch of parents out there that may be pushing for change from their more traditional public schools and that that could be really amazing for all of us. And yeah, Mike, you were present, you took up a book before the world turned upside down and you’ve captured something that now it looks like it could be a reality for some time to come.

Mike McShane: To be clear, I would have preferred a world in which no one cared about my book and we didn’t have a global pandemic, but as they say you have to take the rough with the smooth. OK, we talked about our homeschooling thing that went a little bit viral last month. Another data point that was quoted quite frequently and has shown up in lots of things is our polling on unions. Now, we added a new question this month, and maybe we’ll start with the new question and then go to the older question. We’ve asked questions about just general things about people’s opinions of teachers unions. Do we think they’re harmful or helpful? And that’s part of other questions that we ask about other institutions in American life.

But specifically this month we wanted to ask the question, “Based on what you’ve seen, read, or heard about the coronavirus outbreaks so far, how much do you approve or disapprove of the way teachers unions have influenced closing and reopening of schools?” Obviously this has been in the news a great deal and we wanted to see what’s the general pulse of people. Now, we asked people about local teachers unions and national teachers unions, and I think in both cases between strongly approve, somewhat approved, somewhat disapprove, strongly disapprove, or don’t know or have no opinion, in both of those the single largest category was don’t know or have no opinion.

Now, that caused neither of these sides to get a majority of people either approving or disapproving. But, John, I mean, I’m interested, it’s tough. In some ways it’s tough to draw too strong of inferences from a question where a third of the respondents either don’t know or don’t care, or I shouldn’t say, “don’t care,” but don’t have an opinion about it. But we still saw I think about 24% of respondents saying that they disapprove and another I’ll have to do mental math in my head, 44% if I’m reading that right, I may be doing my math wrong, saying that they somewhat approved. When you look at that figure what do you say?

John Kristof: It’s amazing to me how many people just were going to say that they don’t know on a topic that sometimes can feel as controversial or inflammatory as unions. We’ve asked questions about unions before and people give their opinions. And here it was almost as if we were asking a third of them a question out of that field, which is interesting. And as someone who studies education policy it’s a reminder that there are bubbles, bubbles exist and sometimes people are not online as much as me and people don’t read the same things as me and maybe there’s a lot of people who really don’t have any idea. Now, these responses are for all adults, so I would be curious how many of the don’t know responses are from non-parents and therefore what the totals would be for just the school parents.

One more piece of context that I think is important as well is we asked this question about approval for closing and reopening for more than just teachers unions. We also asked it for the Biden administration, state governors, state public health officials, local school boards. Those also had pretty high don’t know or no opinion responses, but 20%, 15%, 18%, 22%. High, but not nearly as high as teachers unions. What that ultimately wound up meaning is that teachers unions had the lowest approval rating of those categories but also the lowest disapproval ratings.

I think it is hard to say something without feeling like you’re drawing too much out of nothing. I think the story is that I’ve seen a lot of parents that are frustrated with how their maybe local teachers union has handled things and wondering why there’s not a national outcry. I can think of a few colleagues that I have who have said such things and I guess this is why, and that it’s just not on a lot of Americans purview, and I don’t know if that’s a communications thing, I don’t know if that’s a matter of people have seen a couple different things and aren’t really sure what to think. I don’t know how much of it is people, not really sure how they feel about school closings at all. I guess much like a third of our respondents, I don’t really know much more than what it tells me about the knowledge-gathering process itself about unions.

Mike McShane: Yeah, one of the interesting things, Jen, I think maybe some context for this that could be helpful is this question that we have been asking, there was the first version of that specific COVID reopening question. But we’ve asked this question, “To what extent do you feel the teachers unions are helpful or harmful?” And we say towards teacher professional development, student learning, school operations. And in all of those cases the net helpful, so if you take the percentage of people who say that they’re helpful and you subtract the people that think that it’s harmful, I mean, teachers unions are well above water in all of those. When it comes to teacher professional development when you ask all adults, teachers unions are plus 43, I mean, 43% of people are more likely to say they’re helpful than harmful. Among school parents it’s 57%.

Now, I did see the good folks at Morning Consult did give us some comparisons to last month. We asked about helpful or harmful towards teacher professional development, student learning, school operations. And we asked all adults and we asked school parents. Amongst all of those six permutations, this month the net helpful went up so people were more likely to say that they were helpful than harmful across professional development, student learning, school operations, all except in one area, which was school parents and student learning. It is down three points from last month. Now, again, it should be stated the net helpful, it’s still net helpful plus 46. So, 46% more people think that they are helpful than harmful when it comes to student learning.
But that was the one area that stood out, is that there was a little bit of a change in the other direction, again off a very high baseline, it’s tough to take too much off of that. But I would just be interested and even comparing that because we asked these same questions about school boards and they track similarly. Just looking at maybe both the unions—the school boards, helpful, harmful—what do you see when you look at all of that?

Jen Wagner: Yeah, I mean, I think before I get into that too I know we referenced this a little bit earlier, but super pleased that the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, cited our polling. The New York Times originally cited it in a story that they ran and then she used our polling in a rebuttal in the Wall Street Journal, so I think that’s fantastic. Others may have a different opinion, but I think it’s great because, hey, if you’re going to believe our teachers union polling and you’re a teachers union, then as we get further along in this podcast and in the slide deck then you also believe that there’s record high support for school choice policies like ESAs. So, that was pretty exciting.

But this slide is one that I actually had a personal interest in and asked us to start tracking a few months ago, this question of whether or not people view unions as harmful or helpful. And specifically because there are some folks in the ed reform movement who want to vilify unions. And I think what this tells us, and it does track to the prior slide about whether or not people assign responsibility to the unions for reopenings or a failure to reopen, we found that look, people and parents specifically overwhelmingly think that unions are helpful.

Now, is there room to drill down on that and to really find out what they mean, to your point, the question on student learning and seeing a decrease there? I think there’s absolutely room for that conversation but we are starting from a baseline of trust and especially again with parents who both with school boards and teachers unions have this affinity that can’t be denied and can’t be overcome, it’s a feeling. Harmful and helpful are feeling words.

So, as we move forward in the debate, I think wherever we can as a movement, as a school choice movement, if we can find some common ground with unions, with school boards, that will always help us—at least in my lane of messaging and communication—so that we’re not constantly being oppositional. That’s what these two slides tell me, is that even though we may not like the outcomes that come from the policies these groups push, we probably need to do a little bit more finding of common ground.

Mike McShane: Well, now, I think it’s a really important point that it’s wise for people to separate is from ought. So you have as you mentioned, these are people’s opinions and you can disagree with people’s opinions or you can think people’s opinions are wrong but their opinions are their opinions. And so regardless of what you feel about public opinion or what public opinion should be, it’s important to have the baseline of what it actually is. There’s no benefit in hiding your head in the sand and pretending the entire world is with you when they aren’t, because you’ll say dumb things or you’ll advocate for stuff that ends up going nowhere. Yeah, I think it’s important and that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t try work to change public opinion or try to do any of those things but it’s important to have it.

Well, speaking of these, Jen, you did some wonderful foreshadowing there. Some of these public policy questions that again maybe our friends in the unions might’ve skipped the slides, I don’t know, but since they’re such fans of our polling maybe they’ll internalize these. Again, we’ve been asking some public policy questions or some education policy questions and we have some interesting longitudinal trends. And one of the first ones is talking about school funding.

And school funding is a really interesting question at this point in American educational history because of CARES Act I and CARES Act II, and presumably CARES Act III at some point in the future. There’s going to be a massive infusion of money into K-12 schools. There already has been even if CARES III gets paired down, and if you look at the trend lines of what people think about schooling, it seemed completely immune to that. That public opinion on how much should we spend in school seems to have nothing to do with these things that are happening.

But, John, when you look at these… I mean, just for folks at home when we first asked this question in March of 2020, when we just asked people, “Do you believe that public school funding in your state is too high or too low,” 61% of people said it’s too low. Now, when we tell them how much their state actually spends it precipitously dropped down to 36%. We saw a kind of increase in April, but just a decline since then. Today about 54% of people non-prompted say that school funding is too low and with information it’s 33%. So it’s where all of this stuff has happened, all of this money has sloshed in and yet we just see this trend or these opinions just baked in, is something else happening there? What do you see?

John Kristof: I was thinking about this question that we’ve asked for a long time, earlier this week, actually. And the way I’ve framed it for myself is I think this tells us a lot about how people think about money. And I’m going to jump back to that April spike in that between March and April we saw an increase from 36% to 47% from people even after you give them the information on how many thousands of dollars per student states get and it is three or four times as much as people expect.

In April when we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with education this idea of hybrid education was nowhere in people’s minds and not on anyone’s minds but a lot fewer people’s minds. It was just whatever it takes to get things back to normal, we didn’t know how long this pandemic was going to last. However, little money they have now clearly it’s not enough, let’s do more. I think that was a big part of that spike there and then we saw that schools were generally just closed down and we’ve found a new normal and the numbers have stabilized a little bit.

I think despite the talks of even more money coming in and the money that has come in already, I think how people look at funding is I think there are very few people who have a specific number in mind of how much money per student is necessary to educate them well, because that is a very esoteric high-level question that a lot of people don’t have the expertise to answer to. And so there will be some people that, here’s something of several thousand dollars more than they thought. They would be like, “Wow, well, actually no, there must be something else going on.”

But of the people who are still like, “No, still not enough.” Even though they’re guess was such a fraction of what the actual number is. What they see is there is a certain level of education that I want and there’s a belief that money solves problems and to a degree that can be true. Efficiency matters but whatever money is being spent now is clearly not enough to get the results that I think is good for education, so let’s put more money to it. And I think there’s a lack of historical awareness as well about the growth in education over time. There’s a repeated bumper sticker line that we see a lot in education policy world, is that “we’ve been defunding education for years,” and it’s just so hard to understand where that mentality comes from.

And I think it’s just a sense of people assume that when results are down or not to the level that we want the answer is that, well, there’s just not enough money so we need more money. Whatever my opinion about however much money is necessary is I just guessed wrong then, as opposed to, “Oh, the school is not meeting my expectations. My expectations were wrong. I didn’t have an idea of how much things cost.” I don’t know how much that makes sense, but I think it just tells us a lot about people’s relationship with the concept of public funding.

Mike McShane: For sure. And I’ve realized that we’re running a bit long here. I had a couple other things I wanted to talk about. I will direct listeners to, I think, a similar thing that we observed as what John was talking about also around questions of teacher salaries, those trend lines are pretty closely correlated with one another. We also have some interesting stuff about testing. Just recently, and it was after this poll was in the field but this will give you the context of maybe a baseline of understanding of testing.
The federal government has announced that they want states to test all their students this year but they don’t have to be part of accountability systems so it’s just going to be informational. We have some interesting stuff about whether people think that there’s too little or too much testing you’re just going to have to go to the slide deck. This is my little teaser to get you to look at the slide deck. But, Jen, one thing that I do want to talk about before we finish up is just the polling we have about ESAs. We are seeing, I think in north of 20 states now education savings account legislation I think vastly surpassing things about vouchers and tax credits and really does appear to be the future of school choice policy.

And again, Morning Consult put together a great figure of, we’re looking since March, of opinion and it’s been relatively stable. But I mean, when we look at strongly supportive ESAs, it looks like February of 2021, right now is the highest we’ve seen it. Forty-two percent of respondents strongly support; 38% somewhat support. If you combine strongly opposed to somewhat opposed it’s only 9%. I mean, this seems like a pretty slam dunk, 90-10 issue. In the context of all of this debate in state houses do you think that’s going to be enough to push some of these things over the finish line? Does that fade when the rubber hits the road? Putting all of your knowledge of how messages intersect with politics, I would love to know as you look at this what do you say?

Jen Wagner: Yeah, I absolutely think there… And this goes back to the prior slide on hybrid schooling post-pandemic. I think you’ve got a situation where we’ve all been through hell and back as parents the last year. We’ve had a chance to figure out what we like, what we don’t like. The hybrid homeschooling slide tells us that there’s a lot of people in the middle who want it a little bit of over here and a little bit over here and combine that for their child’s experience, and you’ve got that public sentiment. At the same time, people are now gaining more awareness of this ESA concept, which has been around for a while.

We’ve got five states with active ESA programs and a sixth that had one that was never funded, and they’re overwhelmingly popular in those states. But that’s great if my neighboring state has one that I don’t know about it. I don’t really care what’s going on in Florida I only care what’s going on for my kid. But having the ability, and it’s weird to say that this is something good that could come out of the pandemic. I mean, having that desire on the one hand and this policy mechanism on the other, I mean, these numbers are astounding. That is 80% of school parents in support of this ESA policy concept.

I mean, if I were a politician I wouldn’t even have to be worried about my reelection if those are my numbers. So, I do think there’s an opportunity. Yes, there will probably be some fading away of that support, and look, we don’t get to make policy in a vacuum. If we did we could take that public sentiment and marry it up with this positive view of ESAs and we could pass ESA legislation in every state, but we don’t get to make that policy in a vacuum.

Here in Indiana, we’re seeing pushback in other states where either ESAs or voucher expansions are on the table, is that what we were just talking about, the argument that, well, yeah, but if you do that you’re somehow harming the public school system, you’re somehow harming our teachers. That’s a very salient argument. It works every time it gets brought out because, to John’s point, people actually don’t understand funding. They don’t understand that just throwing more money at the system, which by the way we’ve been doing for decades, it just never manages to trickle down to the people in the classroom. Totally separate podcast if you want to listen to that one sometime. We can rant for hours. But you’ve got a lot of opposition to the idea of change despite the fact that you’ve got a lot of support for something new and something different.

Ultimately, I don’t prognosticate when it comes to politics but I do think we’ll see in at least a handful of states some movement forward on maybe they’re not universal ESAs, which is what we would prefer as an organization, but maybe you’ve got some pilot projects. Maybe you have some special needs ESA set up that will continue to help people understand that the one size-fits-all approach to education is not what most parents want.

Mike McShane: Well, look, Jen, John, it has been a pleasure as always. Again for listeners if you want the full slide deck, even some things that we weren’t able to talk about on this call but lots of interesting information, edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. Again, we’re going to continue releasing these every month, a national representative sample of Americans, every quarter a national representative sample of teachers. I think in this next podcast that we do or the one after that we’ll get some more teacher information which I think is going to be super interesting. But again, the pleasure as always. Thanks everyone for listening and look forward to chatting with you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats.

Receive Educational Choice Updates Straight to Your Inbox.

Email Newsletter Signup

Follow Our Progress.

Receive Educational Choice Updates Straight to Your Inbox.

Email Newsletter Signup Engage

Privacy Policy