How to Appeal to Independents and Democrats: School Choice
If anyone is interested in policy issues that can appeal across party lines and to Independents without sacrificing conservative principles, take a look at some of these charts from a poll in the journal Education Next. This first one shows that majorities of Democrats and Independents support vouchers for poor kids, while a majority of Republicans don't.
That's interesting, given that many Republican governors have made school choice one of their top priorities (Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Nikki Haley, and more), but not surprising, because Republican voters tend to live in suburbs and rural areas where, they erroneously believe, public schools are good.
The same poll found that majorities of Hispanics are extremely interested in education as a policy priority. That's again not surprising, because Hispanics often have worse dropout rates than African-Americans.
Even more Americans (72 percent!) support vouchers when they are funded not directly but through tax-deductible donations from businesses and individuals (these are called "tax-credit scholarships").
My other favorite part of the poll is where it shows that support for increasing school spending and teacher pay drops by half when people learn what average per-pupil spending and average teacher salaries actually are. On average, Hispanics think teachers are paid little more than $25,000 a year; blacks, on average, think they are paid around $30,000 a year; and whites estimate salaries at $35,000. Real average teacher salaries are $56,000 a year (before benefits). The public also has a rather shaky trust in teachers and overall a negative view of teacher unions, which is also likely a boost to Republican governors in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.
Gallup polls have rather consistently shown that voters are more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on education. This data seems to indicate that, with a bit more public education, Republicans have a real opening to appeal across party lines on school choice and quality. In City Journal, Edward Glaeser makes a similar point in an article about why Republicans should not abandon cities: "Republicans are also the natural champions of meaningful school reform, since they’re far less likely than Democrats to be in thrall to the teachers’ unions that bear much of the responsibility for the failure of our urban public schools. The Right has correctly promoted choice and accountability as key principles in making schools better. ... With no incentive to excel or improve, the schools can get away with selling a lousy product, and they do."
This last week, a Democrat introduced a bill to give Chicago kids vouchers. He's more likely to find Republican friends in the legislature than among his own party. This is a local issue with good optics and--more important--an obvious social good as its goal. It's a way to champion the downtrodden while simultaneously making the most of tax dollars and reducing the liberal indoctrination camps 90 percent of the country's kids are required to attend. Republicans should make more of it, and white suburban and rural conservatives should stop putting their own prejudices ahead of a better education system for all.