WITH THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN NOW UNDERWAY, education-policy proposals previously at the edge of the political debate are entering the mainstream. On the Republican side, the Trump administration has intensified its campaign for school choice. U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos is asking Congress to enact $5 billion in tax credits annually to encourage donations to state-approved organizations providing scholarships that, if the state allows, could be used to attend private schools. Meanwhile, several Democratic candidates are calling for tuition-free college, an idea proposed in 2016 by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont but rejected that year by the nominees of both political parties. Democratic candidates are also promising dramatic increases to the federal fiscal commitment to K-12 education. Responding to recent teacher strikes for higher pay, Senator Kamala Harris of This year, for the first time, we also surveyed a sample of 415 high-school students and their parents (see sidebar, "What Do Students Think about Education Policy?").
On several issues, our analysis teases out nuances in public opinion by asking variations of questions to randomly selected segments of survey participants. We divided respondents at random into two or more segments and asked each group a different version of the same general question. For example, we told half of the respondents--but not the other half--how much the average teacher in their state is paid before asking whether salaries should increase, decrease, or remain about the same. By comparing the differences in the opinions of the two groups, we are able to estimate the extent to which relevant information influences public thinking on teacher pay.
In this essay, we report and interpret the poll's major findings. Detailed results are available at educationnext.org. Following are the survey's top-10 findings:
1. Vouchers and tax credits. The percentage of American adults favoring vouchers that help low-income students cover the cost of private-school tuition has risen to 49% in 2019 from 37% in 2016, and support for tax credits for donations to organizations that give scholarships to low-income students has edged upward to 58% from 53% over this same time period.
2. Charters. Public support for charter schools has climbed back to 48% from a low of 39% in 2017. Sixty-one percent California proposes federal funding of a $ 13,500 average pay raise for teachers over their current annual salaries--at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $315 billion over 10 years. Not to be outdone, former vice president Joe Biden has called for a tripling of federal funding for schools serving the economically disadvantaged.
The tenor of these provocative ideas is resonating with the American public. Support for increasing teacher pay is higher now than at any point since 2008, and a majority of the public favors more federal funding for local schools. Free college commands the support of three in five Americans. Support for school vouchers has shifted upward, and tax-credit scholarships along the lines proposed by the current administration now command the support of a sizable majority of adults.
These are just a few of the...