NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Voters are split on the continuing growth of charter schools in New Jersey, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Forty-four percent of all Garden State voters support increasing the number of charter schools in the state, while 42 percent oppose adding more charters. Fourteen percent say they don’t know if they support or oppose an increase. Black voters are stronger supporters: 52 percent favor more charter schools.
A majority of the state’s white voters would prefer to send a child to a public school, but black voters prefer charter schools by a narrow margin. While only 31 percent of whites choose charters, 48 percent of blacks feel the same. Public schools are favored by whites, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Black voters are also more likely than whites to support school choice vouchers which would allow children to attend private schools using taxpayer funding, 54 percent to 36 percent.
“As education issues continue to make headlines here, voters are mixed on their reactions,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University. “While there are traditional party-line differences, what really stands out is the difference between black and white voters. African-Americans, while not otherwise supportive of Gov. Christie, are generally behind his plans for charter schools and vouchers.”
Results are from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll of 773 registered voters conducted among both landline and cell phone households from March 28 to April 4, with a margin of error for the full sample of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Garden Staters split on increasing charter schools
Among all voters, supporters of charter schools edge opponents, 44 percent to 42 percent. The numbers are essentially the same for those with at least one child under 18 at home: 41 percent in favor and 44 percent against. Black voters are more positive, however, 52 percent supporting the growth of charter schools and 39 percent opposing.
Those with a favorable impression of the governor also are stronger supporters, 57 percent to 29 percent. Voters unfavorable toward Christie strongly oppose more charter schools, 57 percent to 30 percent. Not surprisingly, only a minority of voters in public employee union households support increasing the number of charter schools, 30 percent to 58 percent who oppose. Support for charters is greater among those in non-union households, 46 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.
“These data show an interesting split in traditional Democratic constituencies on this issue,” said Redlawsk. “As Governor Christie pushes for more charter schools as a lynchpin in his education plan, public employee union members resist, but African-Americans appear to be on his side.”
Charter schools seen equal to or better than public schools
Almost four-in-10 respondents (38 percent) say charter schools do a better job educating children than traditional public schools, while 30 percent say both types are equally good and 9 percent say charters do worse. Twenty-three percent are not sure. Among those with a child under 18, the results are similar: 36 percent say charter schools do better, 34 percent say both types do about the same, 7 percent say charter schools do worse than traditional public schools and 23 percent are unsure. Though supporting charters, blacks are no more likely than whites to say charter schools do a better job than public schools.
By better than 2 to 1 (54 percent to 24 percent), Christie’s supporters are more likely to say charters do a better job than traditional schools at educating students. Twenty-two percent of Christie supporters say the two types of schools are equally good, while 42 percent of Christie detractors believe they are equal. While 14 percent of those unfavorable toward Christie say charter schools do a worse job, only 4 percent of Christie supporters agree. Similarly, among public employee union households, 22 percent prefer charters; 41 percent of non-union households agree.
Seventy-eight percent who say charter schools do a better job, want more in New Jersey. Among those who say both types perform about the same, only 29 percent support more charter schools, while 62 percent are opposed. Most voters do not think the growth in charters has weakened traditional public schools; only 24 percent do so and 45 percent say it has made no difference.
Whites prefer to send children to traditional public schools while blacks are split
Though a majority of voters says charter schools are as least as good as public schools, most white respondents would prefer to send a child to a traditional public school, 51 percent to 15 percent; 15 percent are not sure. Black voters have a starkly different view, with 48 percent preferring a charter school and 43 percent preferring a traditional public school, with only 7 percent unsure.
Christie supporters are half as likely as detractors to say they would send a child to public school; 36 percent would send a child to a public school, while 45 percent prefer a charter. However, 64 percent of those not favorable toward Christie prefer a traditional public school, and only 21 percent would use a charter school.
Black voters support school choice vouchers
Fifty-four percent of black voters support school choice vouchers, another key part of the governor’s education reform plan. Christie has proposed publicly funded scholarships to enable school children to attend private schools with public funding. While black voters support this idea, only 36 percent of white voters agree. As with other parts of his education plans, those favoring the governor are stronger supporters of vouchers, 51 percent to 44 percent opposed. Among those holding an unfavorable view of the governor, only 30 percent support vouchers, while 65 percent oppose them.
“Vouchers are perceived to be of most benefit to families in failing urban school districts,” said Redlawsk. “Since most white voters do not perceive their schools as failing, few seem to support the idea of using tax dollars to allow children to move to private schools where public schools are failing. These results show a clear sense of localism – if my schools are ok, then why use tax dollars for someone else?
“The governor’s voucher plan is not overly popular among his core constituency. Though conservatives and Republicans strongly support charter schools, they are evenly split of vouchers,” said Redlawsk. “Democrats in general strongly oppose vouchers, except for African-Americans, who clearly want more choice of schools. The usual political coalitions have a hard time with this issue.”
Public school budget support unclear
About a month before the annual school elections, Garden State voters are not sure if they will vote for or against their local school budgets. Thirty percent say they will vote yes (34 percent in households with children, 27 percent childless households) while 16 percent say they will vote no (14 percent with children at home; 18 percent without). However, 39 percent say they are not sure how they will vote (38 percent children, 40 percent without.)
Christie backers are less likely to favor their district’s budget. Only 24 percent favor their school budget, while another 24 percent plan to vote against it, and 36 percent are not sure. Among those unfavorable toward the governor, 40 percent plan to vote for their budget, 8 percent oppose it, and 41 percent are unsure.
“Signs point to another contentious season for school budgets,” said Redlawsk. “As with most other things in New Jersey these days, where the governor comes down on the issue matters. If he makes another effort to defeat school budgets as he did last year, he’s likely to motivate his base and see some success.”