Poll finds W.Va. residents want school choice

WHEELING — West Virginians want more control over education spending and more choice in where they send their children to school, according to a statewide poll.

The conservative Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy polled 501 registered West Virginia voters throughout February to assess their thoughts on the effectiveness of public schools, whether they would want to choose the school to which they send their children, and if they support the concept of “education savings accounts.”

Education savings accounts provide a way for parents to save for the education of their children, but differ from traditional “529 plans” in that they can be used to pay for expenses at private elementary and secondary schools and aren’t limited to higher education.

Results show that West Virginians are equally split on whether public schools in West Virginia are doing their job — with 48 percent saying they are good or excellent and 48 percent believing them poor or failing.

Breaking down those results even further, just 3 percent of respondents termed public schools “excellent,” while 45 percent said they were “good.” There were 31 percent who said the schools were “poor,” and 17 percent who described them as “failing.”

But when asked the question: “Do you agree or disagree that parents should be able to choose education options in West Virginia that best meet the needs of their children,” an overwhelming 82 percent said they agreed. Of this figure, 51 percent said they “strongly” agreed, while 31 percent said they “somewhat” agreed.

The 16 percent who disagreed were evenly split at 8 percent between disagreeing strongly or just somewhat agreeing.

A third question asked respondents if they believed parents should be allowed to control how tax dollars allocated for education should be spent. There were 68 percent who agreed, with 36 saying they strongly agreed and 32 percent saying they somewhat agreed.

Among the 31 percent who disagreed, 17 percent strongly disagreed and 14 percent somewhat disagreed.

Respondents were read a short description about ESAs, and asked if they believed “allowing parents to plan for their child’s individual needs will allow for a personal approach to education.”

A total of 57 percent said they supported the idea — with 26 percent saying they strongly supported the idea and 31 percent somewhat supporting it. There were 22 percent who strongly opposed the idea and 12 percent who somewhat opposed it. Eight percent of respondents said they did not know.

They next were asked if they believed creation of an education savings account system in West Virginia would have a negative or positive impact on education.

Twenty-one percent said the effect would be “very positive” and 29 percent said it would be “somewhat positive,” accounting for half the respondents. Another 15 percent indicated they did not believe there would be any effect created by an education savings account system.

Still, 8 percent of those questioned said they believed the impact would be “somewhat negative” and another 17 percent, “very negative.” There were 9 percent of respondents who said they did not know.

Garrett Ballengee, executive director for the Cardinal Institute, did not return calls seeking comment.

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