(Center of the American Experiment) — Sixty-one percent of Minnesotans who identify as Democrats support school choice, according to American Experiment’s most recent May 2023 Thinking Minnesota Poll.
Majority support spans the political, geographic and age spectrums in the state, with 74 percent of total respondents agreeing that parents should have “the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.”
One such way states are making these dollars available to families is through Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs. The Minnesota legislature had an opportunity to pass an ESA school choice bill this past session, but it was not given a single hearing, despite such a policy being widely supported. According to a Morning Consult poll, 72 percent of Minnesotans and 76 percent of Minnesota school parents support ESAs. Even teachers — no matter the school type — are very supportive of school choice, especially ESAs, at 78 percent, according to a recent Ed Choice survey.
A recent Wisconsin poll has also revealed similar school choice support, with 70 percent of the state’s respondents giving school choice the nod of approval, including 53 percent of Democrats. Unlike Minnesota, though, Wisconsin has provided families expanded educational freedom for decades, and most recently is working on boosting funding for its school choice programs. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he will sign the bill.
Why is there such a disconnect between what Minnesota voters support and what the state’s elected representatives prioritize? Clearly Minnesotans in support of school choice aren’t always voting for a candidate who supports school choice. And who is often pulling the political strings for these individuals once they get elected? The teachers union. Despite the overwhelming evidence that school choice benefits students, the teachers union has long opposed empowering families to use their tax dollars to pursue superior alternatives.
No monopoly wants competition, write Connor Boyack and Corey DeAngelis in Mediocrity: 40 Ways Government Schools are Failing Today’s Students. “The privileged position of the status quo is defended until the institution is forced to reform by external pressure.”
Minnesotans are voting with their feet and saying no thanks to the mediocrity of government schools — public school enrollment has dropped for the third consecutive year, as private school and charter school enrollment continue to increase.
But more Minnesotans must realize that the state will not truly embrace the school choice policies its residents overwhelmingly support until those in positions of power to make it a reality are held to doing so.
Catrin Wigfall is a Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment.
Catrin’s experience in education and policy research began during her time with the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. Her interest in education policy led her to spend two years teaching 5th grade general education and 6th grade Latin in Arizona as a Teach for America corps member. She then used her classroom experience to transition back into education policy work at the California Policy Center before joining American Experiment in February 2017.
Catrin graduated summa cum laude from Azusa Pacific University in California, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.