A majority of Texans say they support some form of taxpayer-funded assistance for parents who want to send their children to religious or other private schools.
The topic is expected to be one of the most contentious before the Texas Legislature this session, and the latest survey of public opinion by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston sheds light on public attitudes about proposals dealing with school vouchers or other forms of taxpayer support for parents to send their children to private schools.
Sixty-one percent of Texans said they support providing tax-funded vouchers to low-income parents, while 53% approve of vouchers for all parents.
A related proposal to limit vouchers to low-income families in the six most populous urban counties drew support from 53% of Texans.
”Although we found differences in support among Democrats and Republicans, as well as among racial and ethnic groups, these findings suggest Texans are ready for a serious discussion about vouchers,” said Renée Cross, senior executive director and researcher at the Hobby School. “There was strong support for vouchers and other forms of taxpayer-funded support from Black Texans, while rural Texans also were supportive.”
Overall, she said, the survey suggests policies targeted to low-income children and parents could be more politically palatable than broader voucher programs.
Support was weakest among white Democrats, with 48% supporting vouchers for low-income Texans and just 31% supporting vouchers for all Texans.
The survey examined support for two forms of school choice legislation: vouchers, which would provide parents who choose to enroll their child in a religious or other private school with a voucher – how much that would be worth depends on the proposal, but it’s often linked to the average state cost of educating a child in the public schools – and tax credits for individuals and corporations providing donations to help parents send their children to private or religious schools.
Supporters say the proposals offer a choice to parents dissatisfied with their local public schools. Opponents say they will reduce funding for public schools, limiting services for the children who remain. Rural Texans have traditionally opposed school choice, in part because there are few private schools in rural areas and because the public schools have been considered crucial to the region’s identities.
Mark P. Jones, senior research fellow at the Hobby School and political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said that may be changing.
“People in rural areas were significantly more likely to support vouchers for all Texas families than were people living in urban areas,” Jones said. “We found 59% of people in rural counties support vouchers for low-income families, and that rises to 62% if the voucher program is extended to all families.”
That compares to just half of urban residents who support vouchers for all families.
Fewer than half of rural residents would support a proposal limiting voucher programs to the state’s major urban areas.
In other survey findings:
- Black Texans are significantly more likely than Latino and white Texans to support vouchers for low-income families (78% vs. 64% and 55%, respectively), as well as vouchers for all families (65% vs. 54% and 50%, respectively).
- Black Texans are also significantly more likely than Latino and white Texans to support state tax credits for donations to help pay for low-income children to attend private or religious schools (79% vs. 63% and 63%, respectively), as well as to help all Texas children attend private or religious schools (68% vs. 59% and 59%, respectively).
- Support is higher among Independent and Republican voters than among Democrats, with 67% of Independents, 64% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats supporting vouchers for low-income families. That dropped to 59%, 60% and 44%, respectively, for vouchers for all Texas families.
- But support was high among Black Democrats. In fact, Black Democrats were more supportive of voucher proposals than either white Republicans or Latino Republicans. Support was far lower among Latino Democrats and, especially, among White Democrats.
The full report is available on the Hobby School website. Future reports will examine support for legislation regulating marijuana, abortion, firearms, elections, immigration and energy.
The online survey of 1,200 Texans ages 18 and older was conducted between Jan. 9 and Jan. 19 in English and Spanish. The margin of error is +/-2.8%.
- By Jeannie Kever