AP Poll: Most Americans are unfamiliar with school choice, vouchers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as fierce political battles rage in Washington over school choice, most Americans know little about charter schools or private school voucher programs. Still, more Americans feel positively than negatively about expanding those programs, according to a new poll released Friday.

“I wonder what the fuss is about,” said Beverly Brown, 61, a retired grocery store worker in central Alabama. Brown, who doesn’t have children, says American schools need reform, but she is not familiar with specific school options and policies. “Educational standards have to be improved overall.”

All told, 58 percent of respondents say they know little or nothing at all about charter schools and 66 percent report the same about private school voucher programs, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Charters are schools funded by taxpayer money, but they operate independently of school districts and thus have more freedom in setting their curriculum and hiring staff. Vouchers are publically funded scholarships given to low-income families to help cover tuition in private schools, including religious ones.

Using taxpayer money to aid struggling public schools or diverting it to fund more charter schools or make private schools available to more families has been hotly debated since Donald Trump was elected president. During the campaign, Trump promised to fund a $20 billion school choice program. He picked a long-time charter and private school advocate, Betsy DeVos, as his education secretary. Last week the president welcomed a group of students who were voucher recipients to the White House and asked Congress to work with him to make school options available nationwide.

Those efforts face fierce resistance from Democrats and teachers unions, who say that school choice drains funds from public schools while leaving charter and private schools unaccountable in terms of academic standards and civil rights protections.

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