Chariho School Parents’ Forum

May 4, 2009

No surprises here

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 11:23 am

New State-wide Survey Finds Strong Support For School Choice Options

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Providence, RI – April 20, 2009 —Results from a new state-wide public opinion survey indicate strong support for a range of school choice options as a desired alternative to traditional public schools.

The survey results—released today by the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance (RISA), the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and several other state and national organizations—show that, given the choice, three out of every four Rhode Islanders would select a private school, a public charter school, a home school or virtual school environment for their children.

“The results from this poll clearly show that Rhode Islanders are interested in a broader range of educational opportunities for their children beyond what might be currently available to them due to geographic restrictions or economic limitations,” said Dan Corley, Head of Community Preparatory School in Providence and President of RISA, the coalition of school choice advocates in the state working to promote the Rhode Island Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program. “These results also indicate that Rhode Island, like many other states, does not have sufficient school choice systems in place to match parents’ schooling preferences.”

When asked if it were your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child, here’s how likely voters in the state responded:

  • 56 percent selected private schools
  • 17 percent selected regular public schools
  • 13 percent selected charter schools
  • 12 percent selected home schooling
  • 3 percent selected virtual schools

While fifty-six percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a private school, only 11 percent of Rhode Island’s students currently attend private schools.

Thirteen percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a charter school, yet charter schools enroll only about 2 percent of the state’s students.

While seventeen percent of Rhode Island parents would choose a regular public school for their child, nearly nine of ten – 87 percent — attend regular public schools.

These statistics highlight the significant disconnect between schooling preferences and actual school enrollments.

“As we have found in several other states, parents in Rhode Island clearly want to have more options in the education of their children,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, which undertook the survey on behalf of the organizations. “In short, they want school choice.”

While school choice opportunities are currently available for families in Rhode Island, the demand far exceeds current capacity.

The RI Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program allows any family with a household income of 250% or less of the federal poverty level the opportunity to apply for tuition assistance at nearly 60 participating K-12 private and parochial schools throughout the state. This program, approved by the General Assembly in 2006, allows eligible Rhode Island businesses to receive a tax credit in return for scholarship contributions. The program is limited to one million dollars in approved tax credits annually.

While close to 90,000 families in the state qualify for scholarship assistance, the program has only been able to provide partial tuition assistance to approximately 300 eligible families due to the current tax credit cap. Advocates of the program hope to see the cap raised in order to allow more eligible families the ability to choose the educational environment for their children, regardless of economic or geographic limitations.

Similarly, the state’s public charter schools, another option of choice for families, face an unmet demand. Due to the schools’ popularity and limited number of openings, admission applications have greatly exceeded capacity for several years requiring a random lottery system to determine student admissions. This year, Rhode Island charter public schools received 3,454 applications for only 559 openings, leaving more than 2800 students on waiting lists. About 3,100 students currently attend the state’s 11 charter schools.

In addition, the survey findings show that school choice is not a partisan issue among Rhode Island residents. The survey results indicate general agreement among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The scientifically representative poll of 1,200 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted on January 23 and 25 by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based public affairs agency whose polls have been used by Newsweek, Time Magazine, BBC, ABC News, and USA Today among others. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Rhode Island findings are the latest in a series of surveys commissioned under the Friedman Foundation’s Survey in the State project. Previous surveys include Vermont, and Oregon released earlier this year; and Montana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee, and Nevada, released during 2008. The Foundation also polled voters in four states, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois from 2005 to 2007. Other sponsors of the Rhode Island survey include the Black Alliance for Educational Options, National Catholic Education Association, Agudath Israel of America, and Catholic School Office – Diocese of Providence.

The Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1996 that believes the best way to improve the quality of education is to enable all parents to have a truly free choice of the schools that their children attend. The Friedman Foundation works to build upon this vision, clarify its meaning to the general public and amplify the national call for true education reform through school choice.

The full Rhode Island survey results can be found at www.rischolarshipalliance.org or at www.friedmanfoundation.org.

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Contact: Contact:
Joe DiLaura, Director of Communications Kate Nagle, Executive Director
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance
317/229-2128 or 317/645-8614 401/831-7472 or 401/742-6012
joe@friedmanfoundation.org knagle@rischolarshipalliance.org
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