Polling Shows Californians Like School-Choice Tax Credits

Lance Izumi
Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies and Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute

This week is National School Choice Week and recent polling data shows that Californians support school choice, especially proposals creating tax credits that empower parents to choose the type of education that best meets their children’s needs.

Historically, Californians have had a favorable view of particular school-choice options.  For example, charter schools, which are deregulated public schools independent of local school districts, have been seen as providing better quality education than regular district public schools.  In a 2011 Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California state poll, twice as many respondents said that charter schools provided a higher quality of education than those who said that regular public schools provided the better education.  While charter schools have been around in California the 1990s, other school-choice options are piquing the public’s interest.

School-choice tax credits allow individuals or businesses to claim a credit for an amount against their state taxes based on specified educational expenses or on donations to non-profit organizations that provide scholarships for children to attend private schools.  At the start of the current legislative session, SB 693 by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) originally carried a provision, since amended out, that would have given low-income parents a $500 tax credit for a range of educational expenses, including private-school tuition.  AB 943 by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) creates tax credits for corporations that make contributions to non-profits that fund scholarships for special-needs children or foster youth to attend private school.  Recent polling shows that Californians support the school-choice tax credits envisioned in both bills.

A 2013 statewide survey on SB 643 by SmithJohnson Research showed that a school-choice tax credit for parents was favored by a substantial 59 percent of those polled and opposed by only 33 percent.  Support was strong in all demographic groups, whether based on ethnicity, income or age.

Similarly, last year SmithJohnson conducted a survey on AB 943 and found that a whopping 70 percent of those polled supported a corporate tax credit that would fund private-school scholarships for special-needs children and foster youth.  The demographic breakdown of support was very interesting.

While every major ethnic group gave overwhelming support to the AB 943 tax credits, support was strongest among Latinos.  An eyebrow-raising 81 percent of Latinos supported the tax credits for scholarships.  Nearly the same proportion of African Americans, 80 percent, supported the tax credits.  In contrast, a lower but still very sizeable 67 percent of whites supported the tax credits.

Party identification does not seem to matter when it comes to school-choice tax credits.  Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats support tax credits.  In fact, more Democrats –74 percent — supported the AB 943 tax credits than Republicans – 69 percent.

Tax credits are an enticing school-choice option for California because they are more likely to withstand legal challenges in state courts than other choice alternatives such as vouchers.  Also, the support for tax credits by Californians mirrors national support.

A 2013 national poll by the Indiana-based Friedman Foundation found that 69 percent of mothers with school-age children supported tax credits that would result in scholarships for children to attend private schools.  Americans in general supported scholarship tax credits by a 66-to-24-percent margin.  A survey conducted by Harvard University in 2012 found that 72 percent of Americans supported tax credits for scholarships.

Tax credit programs that pay for private-school tuition have been enacted in 13 states.  As the polling data indicate, Californians, especially growing demographic groups such as Latinos, would welcome and support school-choice tax-credit programs.  In this election year, school choice options such as tax credits should be a priority education issue for California’s political candidates.

— Lance T. Izumi is Koret senior fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

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