The Rebound in Charter Support - But Also a Widening Partisan Divide

Paul E. Peterson
Year of publication: 
March 27, 2018
Education Next

Charters are making a rebound—at least among Republicans and African Americans. Last fall, the 2017 Poll administered by Education Next (EdNext) reported a steep drop in support for the formation of charter schools. Only 39 percent of the public supported charters, a remarkable change from the 51 percent level of support registered in 2016. With 36 percent of the public opposing charter schooling in 2017, this 3 percentage point margin is the smallest that EdNext has observed since it posed the issue to the public in 2007. Over the previous decade, support for charters had consistently outpaced opposition by 20 to 30 percentage points.

Critics cheered that public opinion had finally vindicated their position on charter schools. Advocates rushed to the defense. But amidst this hysteria, Frederick Hess and Amy Cummings at the American Enterprise Institute wondered: “Could the dip be a blip?” Thanks to the Understanding America Study (UAS), a survey regularly administered to a nationally-representative sample of US adults by the University of Southern California, we had an opportunity to find out. In January 2018, we once again asked public about charters.

The question asked in both the EdNext and UAS surveys runs as follows: “As you may know, many states permit the formation of charter schools, which are publicly funded but are not managed by the local school board. These schools are expected to meet promised objectives, but are exempt from many state regulations. Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?”