The Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice is pulling out the stops to convince the state legislature to approve a school voucher program. The program would provide taxpayer money for parents to send their kids to private schools.
On Monday, the foundation (formerly the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation) released results from a public-opinion survey purporting to show there is strong public support for vouchers in Indiana. In fact, it shows no such thing.
The survey found that 68 percent of Hoosier respondents said they were not familiar with vouchers. In other words, they had no opinion. So the poll-takers helpfully explained: A voucher system allows parents “the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools,” with funding re-allocated from the local school district to pay full or partial tuition.
Sounds fairly harmless, doesn’t it? With the explanation, 66 percent said they liked the idea. But what if the question were phrased differently? Or if a few follow-up questions were asked. Should you pay taxes to help wealthy parents send their kids to $30,000-a-year private schools? Should schools that get tax dollars be able to teach religious beliefs? Any religious beliefs?
The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward education used to ask about support for vouchers, but it apparently suspended the question in 2009 and 2010. In the 2008 nationwide poll, it asked respondents if they “favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense.” Forty-four percent favored the idea; 50 percent opposed.
The Foundation for Educational Choice has conducted surveys since 2005 in states where it has campaigned for voucher programs. The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado reviewed 10 of its state surveys and concluded the results were “suspect” because of low response rates and the public’s lack of familiarity with the voucher issue. “These problems were exacerbated by potentially biased wording of questions, which may have resulted in more responses favorable to vouchers,” authors Anthony Gary Dworkin and Jon Lorence wrote.
The foundation’s campaign is, of course, timed to build support for a proposal by Gov. Mitch Daniels to enact a voucher program in Indiana. Daniels wants to limit vouchers to low-income parents, but folks who responded to the foundation survey thought the system should be open to everyone.
We won’t try to fact-check everything on the foundation’s website, but it might want to pay more attention to its media coverage section. It attributes an editorial praising Daniels’ school voucher campaign to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. The J-G has a liberal editorial policy and would be unlikely to back Daniels on vouchers. In fact, the editorial cited by the foundation is from the conservative eddy page of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.