Poll Shows Democrats Split On School Choice
Milwaukee’s Black Democrats are far more supportive of vouchers than whites.
A new poll of likely Democratic Primary voters in Milwaukee County provides an interesting window into the divides over school choice and the Democratic coalition. The poll, commissioned by Milwaukee Works, a 501c4 organization with a focus on good governance in Milwaukee, asked respondents about a variety of issues, but school choice and charter schools – and the demographic breakdown in responses – provides a valuable view into the divides on education reform.
The majority of Democrat primary voters polled are opposed to the concepts of private school choice and charter schools. Just 37% support the concept of vouchers, while 35% support charter schools. 54% of white Milwaukee Democrats polled stated their opposition to public charter schools; and for school voucher programs the opposition was an overwhelming 62%. But 52% of African American respondents support school voucher programs, compared to a mere 30% who oppose (18% were “not sure”). And public charter school support captured a plurality of 44%, compared to 31% who again oppose (25% this time were “not sure”).
Dan Adams, a Milwaukee attorney and Director of Milwaukee Works, said on the Steve Scaffidi Show on 620WTMJ, “To my Democratic counterparts, especially elected officials: stop being cowards on [school choice]. You can be nuanced. You can recognize there are good voucher schools and good charter schools. And they deserve to be supported, just like MPS.”
But in Wisconsin, Governor Evers has been a long-time opponent of educational choice, dating back to his days as DPI Superintendent. In his most recent budget, the Governor proposed a freeze on enrollment in voucher schools, essentially killing the opportunity for future growth in the programs. He also proposed eliminating the Office of Educational Opportunity, which provides an alternative authorizer for charter schools in areas where charters have become politically unpalatable.
After New York’s Democratic mayoral primary in June, the New York Times revisited some 2017 research from the Pew Research Center to explain the electoral success of Eric Adams, a black former police officer. The overwhelming margins and consistency with which minorities vote for Democrats masks the fact that most of them are only slightly left of center. As the Times wrote, solid liberals “are disproportionately college graduates with above-average incomes. They are also heavily white.”
This disconnect comes as no surprise to Shannon Whitworth, an African American leader at a school participating in the choice program, and also a Bradley Freedom Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). “Malcolm X spoke at length about the danger the white liberal presents to the black community,” said Whitworth. “The state of public education in Wisconsin today could not provide a more glaring example. Black people want out of these schools and liberals are determined to keep them there, ignoring their failures or blaming others for them, and fully convinced that the same policies that have consistently failed for the last 70 years will work out eventually if only someone else’s racism would get out of the way.”
As school choice supporters’ demographics continue to shift and the ongoing challenges created by the pandemic continue to disrupt traditional public schools, the question will be whether Democrat policymakers, particularly those in suburban areas, will begin to recognize the importance of school choice. Without a doubt, suburban parents are now discussing how to access the right educational opportunities for their children, a conversation and all too often political fight, that many voucher and public charter school parents have had for years.
Our own research in Milwaukee has shown that choice and charter schools provide a greater opportunity for success for participating students, which can serve as an engine for economic growth in the future if allowed to flourish. If parent voices are being ignored by Democrats who are obstructing progress, then someone else should step in. And Donald Trump’s success increasing his share of the non-white electorate by five percentage points from 2016 to 2020 is evidence that political coalitions are only as permanent as their opposition allows them to be.