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Group pushing charter schools says Democrats losing voters on education

GOP trying to recapture suburbs by pushing parents' rights

President Joe Biden attends the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2023 Teachers of the Year event in the White House Rose Garden on April 24.
President Joe Biden attends the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2023 Teachers of the Year event in the White House Rose Garden on April 24. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Voters in four battleground states narrowly trust Republicans more than Democrats to ensure schools prepare students for success, according to a new poll by a group trying to convince Democrats to support public charter schools and other alternatives to traditional K-12 institutions.

The survey of voters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform found 36 percent of voters trusted Republicans on the education question, versus 33 percent who trusted Democrats and 17 percent did not trust either party. The rest were unsure or trusted both parties.

On other key issues, such as reducing gun violence and addressing the affects of climate change, the survey found far more trust in Democrats over Republicans.

The findings come as Republicans have been trying to regain support in suburban areas that backed Democrats for Congress in recent election cycles by pressing issues such as parents’ rights to have more control over public education.

Jorge Elorza, CEO of Democrats for Education Reform, said the poll results should alarm Democrats, who he said are losing ground on education.

“Voters — especially parents — want to see bold investments and more choices for their children,” Elorza said in a news release accompanying the poll’s release. “Republicans are capitalizing on this.” 

Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed myriad measures in recent years that allow taxpayer money to be spent on private and parochial schools. Republicans in Congress have proposed sharp cuts to public education while pushing for school-choice policies. Earlier this year, officials in Oklahoma approved an online charter school that will receive taxpayer money but provide Catholic instruction and is run by the church.

Democrats for Education Reform says it backs only public charter and magnet schools and does not support school vouchers or using taxpayer funds to support private and religious education.

Many progressive Democrats and teachers’ unions have opposed charter schools, saying the publicly-funded and independently-run institutions lack accountability. Most public charter schools are not unionized, and teachers unions are a core part of the Democrats’ political base.

During the 2020 election cycle, for example, the American Federation of Teachers gave nearly $2.4 million to Democratic congressional candidates and only $1,050 to Republicans in the 2022 cycle, according to opensecrets.org.

The four states surveyed are likely to be critical to the next presidential race. President Joe Biden, who was endorsed for reelection last month by the AFT, won Nevada by less than 34,000 votes, Georgia by less than 12,000 votes and Arizona by less than 11,000 votes, while he lost North Carolina by more than 74,000 votes.

The poll found broad support in the four states for public alternatives to traditional schools, with 64 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of unaffiliated voters backing public charter schools. Respondents also backed public magnet schools and career academies.

Six out of 10 parents surveyed said they did not see improvements in their schools over the past three years, despite significant investments in education in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The picture for Democrats was brighter among voters who reported seeing improvement in their school over the past year. They said they trusted Democrats on education over Republicans by a 12-percentage point margin, 46 percent to 34 percent.

The survey, conducted from July 17-19, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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