The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is out with a new public opinion survey featuring the surprising finding that seven in 10 Indiana registered voters favor school vouchers, which provide taxpayer-funded tuition payments for parents who send their children to private schools.
The survey finds vouchers are popular across the board – even with many Indiana Democrats and with supporters of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, an outspoken voucher opponent.
If this sounds suspicious, it should. Surveys by other organizations never seem to find anywhere close to that kind of support for vouchers. The recent Hoosier Survey by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, for example, found only 39 percent support for vouchers for private or charter schools. Nationally, the 2015 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll found only 31 percent support for vouchers.
So as for Friedman Foundation survey, consider the where it’s coming from. The foundation is an advocacy organization whose mission is to bring about the late economist Milton Friedman’s vision of privatizing education through universal state voucher programs that are open to all students.
The Indianapolis-based foundation has been conducting these state opinion surveys for a long time, and somehow they never fail to find strong support for vouchers. Researchers Jon Lorence and Gary Miron analyzed 10 of the Friedman Foundation surveys several years ago and concluded they were plagued with questionable sampling techniques, biased questions and other problems.
“Contrary to the authors’ claims, the data provide little evidence that state public officials will increase their electability by supporting school choice policies,” they wrote in a review for the pro-public education National Education Policy Center.
One problem with doing surveys on school vouchers is that many people aren’t familiar with the concept. So the Friedman Foundation provides a helpful definition that, while technically accurate, is worded in a way that’s likely to elicit a pro-voucher response. It starts by saying vouchers allow parents to send their children to the school of their choice. Who wouldn’t like that?
But the survey isn’t designed to gauge what people think. Its purpose, as Lorence and Miron suggested, is to push legislators to expand Indiana’s already large and generous voucher program.
Its findings will no doubt figure prominently in today’s big school choice rally at the Statehouse, hosted by the pro-voucher Institute for Quality Education and the Friedman Foundation and featuring a keynote address by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who went to war against teachers’ unions and subsequently founded the education news and advocacy site The Seventy-Four.
The survey also claims to find support for Education Savings Accounts, a new type of voucher program being promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, has authored legislation that would provide ESA benefits to a family of four making nearly $100,000 a year. If the bill gets a hearing, expect to hear Friedman Foundation representatives testify that Hoosiers love the idea.