by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Do growing numbers of minority voters aid the expansion of parental choice in North Carolina? As of last November, Blacks made up 22% of the population of North Carolina while Hispanics and Latinos comprised 4.7%. It’s reasonable to expect that these proportions will continue to increase. The recent Civitas January School Choice Poll offered interesting findings as to how Blacks and Hispanics think about parental choice in North Carolina.
What do Blacks and Hispanics think about the idea of parental choice?
Two questions on the Civitas Poll provided insight into minority sentiment about the idea of parental choice. First, the poll asked: “Who is best suited to determine where a child should attend school?” Seventy eight percent of whites, along with 74% of Blacks and 81% of Hispanics, chose “the child’s parents or guardian.”
Respondents were also asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Parents should have the ability to choose where their child attends school.” For reference, 81% of respondents agreed with the statement. Again, when broken down by race, support was strong across all races: 75% of Blacks agreed with the statement, while support among whites and Hispanics was slightly higher at 84% and 88%, respectively.
How do Blacks and Hispanics feel about NC school choice programs?
Do the high levels of support Blacks and Hispanics have for school choice translate into support for existing school choice programs, such as the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and charter schools?
For background, 61% of all poll respondents supported OSP. In addition, Blacks comprise 22% of OSP recipients, while 14% of recipients are Hispanic. When divided by race, white support logged in at 58% of respondents. Hispanics and Blacks showed especially strong support for OSP, registering at 74% and 63%, respectively. Hispanic support for OSP outpolled white support by 16 points.
Now let’s consider charter schools. Blacks comprise 26% of charter school enrollment, while Hispanics comprise 12%. Overall 58% of all poll respondents supported charter schools, while 23% opposed them. Hispanic support was strongest at 62%, followed closely by whites (61%) and then Blacks (51%).
Hispanics and Blacks seemed to view charters differently. Hispanics were clearly more open to charters and seemed to feel better about educational outcomes. Lukewarm feelings of Blacks toward charters may derive from Democrat opposition to charters and nagging allegations that charters encourage segregation.
What reasons do minorities provide for liking or not liking parental choice?
The January Civitas Poll asks respondents to choose “the most convincing reason to support parental choice.” Forty-two percent of whites chose “provides the best educational option” as the top response and “provides children trapped in underperforming schools with the opportunity for a better education” as the second most popular response (17%) – beating out “results in higher levels of education satisfaction, improved student achievement and taxpayer savings” by only a tenth of a point. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Blacks selected the same two responses as their top two reasons for supporting parental choice, but they split, giving each option 32%. Hispanic sentiment differed in a couple of ways. Hispanics said the top reason to support parental choice was that it “provides children trapped in underperforming schools the opportunity for a better education” (37%). Their second most popular reason (26%) was that it “results in higher levels of education satisfaction, improved student achievement and taxpayer savings.” The same option was third among whites (17%) and only fourth among Blacks (11%).
The Civitas Poll also asked respondents to provide reasons for opposing parental choice. Surprisingly, “Unsure” was the most popular answer at 38% of respondents. Of the remaining options, “programs encourage de facto segregation” was the second most popular response at 26%. Hispanic were also “unsure” about their opposition to choice (34%) but also believed choice programs “leave public schools with students who have more challenging needs” (30%). Equally important, a plurality of Blacks (38%) opposed parental choice because they thought it “encourages de facto segregation.” These numbers suggest that many Blacks still have negative perceptions of charters. The second most popular reason for Black opposition was “unsure” (23%).
Interestingly, “unsure” was the highest response among general respondents, whites and Hispanics. Those numbers suggest that opposition to parental choice is diffuse and that worries about segregation may not be as big a problem as the rhetoric suggests. Yes, 38% of Blacks still believed choice may lead to segregation. However, the high percentage (23%) of “unsure” responses suggests that opposition may be soft.
Does minority support for school choice impact voting?
The Civitas Poll asked, “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate in the 2022 elections who supports Opportunity Scholarships?” The best way to consider that question is to pair minority support for OSP with the percentage who said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports OSP. For Blacks, 63% reported support for OSP. However, only 51% of Black respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate in 2022 who supports OSP. For Hispanics the differential was even greater. Hispanic support for OSP was the highest of any race at 74%. However, only 38% of Hispanics said they would be more likely to vote for the candidate who supports OSP.
Parental choice is an idea that has strong appeal across races. Both Blacks and Hispanics strongly supported the Opportunity Scholarship Program, though they had differing views on charters, with Hispanics reporting stronger support and Blacks more lukewarm. Much of this news is good for advocates of parental choice. However, it also points to clear differences in populations and political history.
Ensuring that all families know the benefits of parental choice will translate to greater support at the ballot box. The idea of parental choice has clear and universal appeal, which is why Black and Hispanic families in North Carolina will continue to grow in their support of choice and choice programs.