Why Millennials Support School Choice

(Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Dreamstime)
We’re used to having plenty of options, and we distrust institutions.

Two national surveys, eight months apart and conducted by different pollsters, have found incredibly strong support for school choice among Millennials. In January, Beck Research — on behalf of my employer, the American Federation for Children — found that 75 percent of Millennials support school choice. Yesterday, USA Today released a poll from GenForward with nearly identical results.

In the GenForward poll, support for vouchers for low-income children is high among Millennials across racial and ethnic lines: 79 percent of African Americans, 76 percent of Asian Americans, 77 percent of Latinos, and 66 percent of whites support the concept. And charter schools enjoy support from 65 percent of African Americans, 61 percent of Asian Americans, 58 percent of Latinos, and 55 percent of whites.

This could be a winning issue for Republicans and Democrats willing to seize the moment and push bold reforms. In a Gallup poll from April of this year that gauged public opinion on 15 different policy proposals, federal funding for school vouchers was one of just four that Republicans and Democrats both supported on balance.

Legislative momentum has grown in recent years as well. In the past year alone, Florida, Nevada, Louisiana, North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona, and Wisconsin, among others, have enacted or expanded educational choice for K–12 students. And on the national level, many are working to create an education tax credit that would enable many more children to access the school of their parents’ choice. Federal school-choice initiatives are already available in higher education, in the form of grants and loans that a student may use at any eligible college. Why disregard the more important and formative K–12 years?

Twenty-six states with private-school-choice programs and 44 states with charter schools clearly show the nationwide support for educational choice, and the research shows school choice works. Eleven of the 17 empirical studies using the random-assignment method — the “gold standard” for social-science research — show that students using private-school-choice programs do better academically. And charter-school research from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) shows significantly improved academic results, especially for students in urban charter schools.

For the Millennial generation, having many educational options make sense. We grew up with abundant options across most aspects of our lives. We saw rapid advancements in technology that previous generations could have only dreamed about as they grew up.

For the Millennial generation, having many educational options make sense.

We also deeply distrust institutions. Many of us graduated high school or college during the 2008 financial crisis, and thus struggled to find work after earning degrees we’d been promised would lead to good jobs. Some of us were forced to move back in with our parents. So why would we continue to trust a bulky, monolithic K–12 system that hasn’t been truly reformed in generations and produces meager results on international tests?

We don’t believe that your five-digit ZIP code should determine whether you go to the good school, the bad school, the best school, or the failing school. And with the growing popularity of online and personalized learning that can give you front-row access to some of the best teachers and best courses on the planet, Millennials are naturally inclined to think even more expansively when it comes to what’s possible in education.

The future of education in America could be bright and dynamic, with better outcomes for our students. All we — and our leaders — have to do is choose that future.

— Tommy Schultz is the national communications director for the American Federation for Children, the nation’s largest educational-choice advocacy organization.

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