Contact: John Barnes
jbarnes [at] washingtonpolicy [dot] org
Seattle – A statewide poll released today by Washington Policy Center shows a strong majority, 60%, of Washingtonians support changing state law to allow charter public schools, and 64% say they support allowing low-income and minority children in urban neighborhoods to attend such schools.
Charter public schools are currently banned in Washington. If the ban is lifted, Washington would join 41 states and the District of Columbia in allowing children to attend independent charter public schools. Allowing charters as an education option is supported by the Obama Administration and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Charter public schools are independent, community-based public schools that are tuition-free and take all students. Currently 1.7 million children attend 5,453 charters. Charter public schools are popular. Nationally, 365,000 students are on waiting lists to attend a charter public school, enough to open nearly one thousand new schools.
The new poll, conducted by Moore Information, asked respondents if they would support or oppose changing state law to allow charter public schools to open in Washington.
- 60% said they would strongly or somewhat support allowing charter public schools to open.
- 25% said they would strongly or somewhat oppose allowing charter public schools to open.
- The level of enthusiasm was much higher among supporters than opponents. Twice as many respondents (39%) said they strongly support allowing charter public schools as said they strongly oppose them (19%).
Support increased when respondents were asked about allowing charter public schools to open in urban neighborhoods when state officials report traditional schools are failing to adequately educate low-income and minority children.
- 64% of respondents said they support allowing charter public schools to serve low-income and minority children, while opposition dropped to 22%.
- Again, the level of enthusiasm was significantly higher among supporters of allowing urban poor and minority children to attend charter public schools (42% strongly support), than among opponents (14% strongly oppose).
Independent research shows charter public schools in other state have been effective in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students, especially in urban communities.
The idea of changing state law to allow charter public schools found support in all areas of the state – 55% of respondents in Eastern Washington and 61% in Western Washington supported allowing charters, including 58% in King County and a slim majority (51%) in Seattle.
The highest level of opposition was reported in Seattle, where 32% said they strongly or somewhat oppose allowing charter public schools. Opposition in King County as a whole was 25%.
When asked about serving low-income and minority students, support for allowing public charter schools increased to 57% in Eastern Washington and to 65% in Western Washington, including 66% in King County and 59% in Seattle.
Among survey respondents, 62% of men and 58% of women said they support public charter schools. Opposition was reported by 23% of men and 27% of women, with the remainder undecided.
When asked about serving low-income and minority children, support for allowing charter public schools increased to 67% for men and to 61% for women.
Based on party identification, support for allowing charter public schools was strongest among Republicans (76%) and Independents (61%), while just under half (48%) of Democrats expressed support.
Party-based opposition was strongest among Democrats (36% opposed), followed by Independents (24% opposed) and Republicans (15% opposed).
When asked about serving low-income and minority children, support for allowing public charter schools increased to 53% for Democrats and 65% for independents, while remaining the same for Republicans at 76%.
"We often hear that people in Washington don't want charter public schools. These findings show just the opposite," said Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at Washington Policy Center. "Washington has been called an education reform backwater. It appears support for lifting the ban is growing as people learn about how charter public schools in other states are achieving amazing results for children, even in some of the country’s toughest urban neighborhoods," Guppy added.
The poll was conducted February 19th and 20th and included 400 adults statewide. The margin of error is +/– 5%.
- Complete poll results 
- WPC study - An Option for Learning: An Assessment of Student Achievement in Charter Public Schools 
- WPC legislative memo - Lifting the Ban on Charter Schools in Washington 
- WPC blog post - Charter public schools would give us more Eric Pettigrews