MILWAUKEE – A statewide Marquette Law School Poll conducted March 11-14 finds that voters view charter schools as enabling more choice in education options but are doubtful that students learn more in charter schools than in public schools. Seventy-one percent said charter schools offer more choice, while 18 percent disagreed. Thirty-four percent think students learn more in charter schools, but 51 percent disagree. The poll finds that voters have a mix of views about charter schools, reflecting varied evaluations of them as education alternatives.
Charter schools are publicly funded, independently operated schools that are allowed more flexibility over instruction and subject matter than traditional public schools. The poll also touched upon views of vouchers, which support students attending private and religious schools.
A large majority, 72 percent, think charter schools provide flexibility to meet student needs that may not be met in traditional public schools, while 16 percent disagree. Voters doubt that charter schools skim the best students: 31 percent think they do, but 58 percent disagree. Opinion is more evenly divided on whether charters take needed money away from traditional public schools: 40 percent think they do, while 48 percent think they do not drain money from traditional schools. Forty-six percent think competition with charter schools makes public schools better, but 42 percent disagree.
Voters are concerned that the public pays for charter schools but has little control over school quality, with 47 percent agreeing and 38 percent disagreeing.
Charter schools are viewed favorably by 42 percent of voters statewide, while 16 percent have an unfavorable view of them. However, 42 percent say they don’t know enough about charter schools to offer an opinion. That is a higher favorability than toward voucher schools, which are seen favorably by 27 percent and unfavorably by 24 percent. An even larger segment, 49 percent, said they didn’t know enough to express an opinion about voucher schools. Public schools, in contrast, were viewed favorably by 72 percent of the public with 18 percent having unfavorable views and 10 percent unable to say. Likewise, 24 percent said they were very satisfied with the public schools in their community and 57 percent said they were satisfied. Eleven percent were dissatisfied and 2 percent very dissatisfied
Looking to the future of charter schools, the public is evenly balanced, with 24 percent saying they would like more charter schools and 22 percent that they want fewer or no charter schools. The largest group, 47 percent, think we should maintain the current number of charter schools.
The poll of both landline and cell phone users was conducted March 11-14, 2013. Results are based on a sample of 1060 registered voters and have a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent. An oversample of 360 respondents from the city of Milwaukee was included to allow more detailed analysis of results in the city. All results have been weighted to properly reflect the statewide population. Additional information about the other topics covered in this poll is available at http://law.marquette.edu/poll.
The Marquette Law School Poll is the most extensive independent statewide polling project in Wisconsin history. In 2012 the poll provided highly accurate estimates of election outcomes, in addition to gauging public opinion on a variety of major policy questions. The Law School has announced that it will continue the poll during 2013. Charles Franklin, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and formerly a visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette Law School, directs the poll.