Capitol Alert

Are California voters warming up to school vouchers?

A majority of California voters favor offering tax credits or vouchers to low-income parents for sending their children to private or religious schools, according to a new statewide poll.

Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, said their views were shaped by the belief that low-income families have few choices when it comes to what schools their children can attend. The tax credits or vouchers would presumably expand their options and allow them to send their children to a private or religious school rather than a public school.

The survey, conducted on behalf of nonprofit EdSource, found the proposal supported by a 55 percent to 34 percent margin overall. Democrats, Republicans and independents all backed such a plan.

“When you are just framing it in terms of low-income families you have very little difference between the parties,” DiCamillo said in an interview. “Partisanship does not rear its head.”

However, the survey got a different result when asking about offering school vouchers and tax credits to all parents, regardless of their family’s income. In that case, fewer than half, or 46 percent favor the idea, while 43 percent are opposed.

Democrats and independents are sensitive to the impact it could have on public schools, DiCamillo said, noting that pluralities of those voters oppose the idea.

“What was interesting to me is the changeover,” he said.

UC Berkeley’s survey is the second in recent months on vouchers. In April, a statewide poll by The Public Policy Institute of California found that 60 percent of California adults and slightly more public school parents, 66 percent, favored giving parents tax-funded vouchers to use at any public, private or parochial school.

School vouchers and tax credits have been divisive issues in California. In 2000, California voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 38, which sought to authorize annual state payments of at least $4,000 per pupil to attend private schools, including private religious institutions.

Each side spent tens of millions of dollars. Supporters included the venture capitalist Tim Draper while the California Teachers Association led the fight against Proposition 38.

In 1993, California votes rejected Proposition 174, which would have provided vouchers for families to pay tuition at schools other than their local public school. The vouchers would have to be equal to at least half of the prior fiscal year’s per pupil spending for K-12 public schools, according to the constitutional amendment.

Separately, DiCamillo noted that UC Berkeley’s Wednesday survey determined that voters like changes to the state’s education policy that put less emphasis on standardized test scores when evaluating public schools.

He concluded: “The voting public gives much greater importance to these other quality-of-school measures than just these test scores.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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