Oklahoma GOP Voters Prefer School Choice Over Same Old, Same Old
OCPA Perspective: August 2014
By Patrick B. McGuigan
THE UNIONS AND OTHER FOES OF SCHOOL CHOICE ARE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY
Two all-but-sainted gentlemen have stepped up to lead an Oklahoma exodus. Although neither has put it this way, “Let our children go” could be their mantra. These guys believe that in education policy, taxpayer resources should follow children, not bureaucratic dictates.
God bless Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan and Oklahoma City media titan Russell Perry.
A public opinion survey, conducted by The Tarrance Group for the Oklahoma Federation for Children (OFC), found overwhelming support for all forms of parental choice in education among likely Republican primary voters.
Previous polls have documented sup-port for school choice among all electoral elements, to be sure, but the Grand Old Party (GOP) now exercises such dominant control at the state Capitol that the views of those primary voters are darn near dispositive when it comes to policy, at least for now.
To put it charitably, conservative Re-publican electoral victories have not al-ways led to conservative public policy.
This year, for example, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted down expanding public charter schools to rural areas – even though 67% of GOP primary voters support the idea, Tarrance found.
That’s not all. Support for charters was 84% among rural Republicans. And yet, it was a cluster of rural GOP legislators who doomed the idea’s chances in the 2014 legislative session.
What do numbers like this mean in the real world of public policy?
In an interview, Scott Jensen of the American Federation for Children (AFC), OFC’s national parent, told me: “The Republican primary voters are more aggressive than those who represent them. Within that framework, even more impressive and affirming to us was that rural Republicans voting in the Republican primary were so supportive of school choice in all its forms.
“The number one issue is that not all the Republicans are supportive of choice, and some who are sympathetic are not aggressive in support. Those legislators tend to be responsive to the largest interests, the concentrations of power among their constituents. These include school district officials, members of school boards, superintendents, and teacher union members.”
Jensen worked for Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson when the latter pushed historic school choice measures in the 1990s. He is a happy warrior, bringing to the fray a welcome honesty about what is required to advance the ball.
Jensen, a former House Speaker in Wisconsin, came to the Sooner State in July to unveil the Tarrance data. The polling company (established by Lance Tarrance, a supporter of Ronald Reagan through-out his career) knows our state well. Cur-rent clients include James Lankford’s U.S. Senate campaign.
For choice supporters, optimism seems justified. Consider: The survey found a remarkable 75 per-cent of GOP voters support educational choice. Specifically: “Do you favor or op-pose educational choice, which is giving parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with the education of their children to send their children to the public or private school of their choice?”
Even in households that include a public school employee, 61% of those surveyed backed choice, while only 34 percent opposed.
Among GOP primary voters who backed Joy Hofmeister for state superintendent, 69% favor educational choice, while only 25% oppose.
An overwhelming 76% of the primary faithful support the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program, an existing choice program for youngsters with special needs. Among Hofmeister voters, 72% back the Henry Scholarships, while only 20% oppose.
As for the purest form of school choice – Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), proposed but not yet enacted in Oklahoma – it’s not surprising that support is a bit weaker. Still, two-thirds of Republican primary voters are in support. Among Hofmeister voters, support outweighs opposition by a margin of 57% to 33%. OFC jumped into four primaries this year, helping to win two. They worked on both sides of the partisan divide, backing both Democratic state Senate candidate