Op Ed

Poll Shows Democrats Split On School Choice

Milwaukee’s Black Democrats are far more supportive of vouchers than whites.

By - Aug 18th, 2021 09:28 am
School classroom. Image by Wokandapix on Pixabay

School classroom. Image by Wokandapix on Pixabay

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”).

Given these stark divides over support for school choice, we would expect to see some more support for school choice among elected Democrats. But we generally don’t.

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.”

Regardless, this rift suggests opportunities for political progress. African Americans stand to gain much from school choice initiatives that bring the vibrant competition of the free market to the world of education. A recent Marquette Law School poll shows that African American parents are far more likely than white parents to be dissatisfied with public schools in their community.  Among white respondents, only 20% disapproved of their local schools while about 45% of African Americans found them to be lacking.

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.

Noah Diekemper is a Senior Research Analyst and Will Flanders the Research Director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Categories: Education, Politics

11 thoughts on “Op Ed: Poll Shows Democrats Split On School Choice”

  1. Mingus says:

    I am always amazed at how often black “experts” on education complain about white liberals while they are funded and are often part of right wing organizations that are forces behind voter suppression and opposition to police reform. The goal of school choice is not improved educational outcomes for minority students but to use it as a gateway policy to create a voucher program for the middle class and undermine public education.

  2. Alan Bartelme says:

    An ‘article’ written by WILL? This isn’t an article, this is an opinion piece. WILL is a far-right lobbying organization colluding with the GQP. Urban Milwaukee, please label these opinion articles correctly.

  3. Mary Buczynski says:

    I am a second generation ethnic resident. My children attended a parochial/choice school and received a great education on a very diversified community environment. They made life-long friendships and even was part of a qiunceneria. We shared our lives with other families and my kids learned empathy, not envy. The value-based education doesn’t happen in a purposeful way in public schools. My kids then went to single gender high schools and scholarships to college – even an IVY.

  4. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Republicans hate the public school system because students learn about reading, writing, and arithmetic instead of learning about Adam and Eve from Jimmy Swaggert, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson.

  5. Ryan Cotic says:

    After reading this article the facts seem to show that well off white liberals and democratic politicians are the true racists. These people are trapping poor children of color in failing schools and that is the very definition of institutional racism

  6. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Selective reporting Selective memory. What the “Milwaukee Press” has failed to report on is the success of what was called the Chapter 220 Suburban School Integration Program. Each year the parents of 400 to 500 children of color were accepted to public schools in the suburbs of Milwaukee. So total of 5000 children of color were attending each year and the last vestiges of that program are now graduating or have graduated in the recent past. The parents chose public schools and their children were in more than large part successful. No reporting by WILL about this program as it is not supportive of their skewed views of the public.

    On another note this is not a good representation by Urban Milwaukee as it seem to move to the RIGHT. I have tried to engage the reporters/editorial folks for a number of years about a series of articles based upon a long observation on Choice Schools and the Violent Behavior that is part of some schools to NO avail. No call No response No engagement No effort to refute hence the subject will never be considered.

    How much longer can it go on?? At what point do you decide that “too many people have died” and that it is worth risking a hour for what might the beginning of a series or stories that begin to turn the tide. First the stories will explain what is happening beyond the shootings and then the changes that need to be made.

    Yes a solution with a few parts. I will gladly share with you those parts and how they fit together. If you have not read Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes and if you have not read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. and if you have not read Dr Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s new book What Happened to You then you probably do not have the tools to understand the parts. Along with the parts I can share with you that basic understanding as well.

    Here’s hoping


    Tom Spellman 414 403 1341

  7. Thomas Sepllman says:

    What happened to my comments?? Testing

  8. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Hummmmm My status to post??? 414 403 1341

  9. huk730 says:

    A good article. Opposition to choice and charter schools is fracturing and dwindling, Why should Black parents be denied opportunities to improve the education of their children? A better approach is the one taken in Chicago: unionize charter schools.

  10. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Now that Republicans have opened the door for privatizing America’s education system, I’m waiting for Walmart, Amazon, Facebook, Barnes & Noble, and Kohl’s to open their own K-12 schools.

    There’s lots of money to be made selling school supplies and text books for children. But it’s much more lucrative for a corporation, a private equity fund, a hedge fund, a Wall Street Bank, or an LLC to open a publicly funded, privately managed, and semi-autonomous K-12 school system that pays no taxes.

  11. ringo muldano says:

    Most rCons have no clue that they are full of sh!t and their god is money. Do they really believe a young 30’ish jewish guy is going to float down and set all the wrongs of all eternity right…. any day now? No. They are fatalistic clownasses.

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