In mid-September print and electronic media put out a story about a new Gallup survey purporting to show 70% majority public support for tax funding of sectarian and other nonpublic schools. The poll was commissioned and released by the National Catholic Education Association, which has long sought tax funding for private schools, which apparently timed and released the poll so as to influence this year's elections.
The trouble is, the question used in the poll ("In some nations, the government allots a certain amount of money for each child for his education. The parents can then send the child to any public, parochial or private school they choose. This is called the 'voucher system.' Would you like to see such an idea adopted in this country?") was nearly meaningless because it mixed inextricably the wholly separate issues of parental choice among public schools and tax support for nonpublic schools, 90% of which are sectarian.
Gallup used the same question in a number of the annual Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) surveys of opinion on education from 1970 until the late 1980s. Use of the question invariably brought ambiguous and useless results.
But in 1991, after years of complaints from experts, Gallup/PDK broke the equivocal question in two unambiguous questions. Responses to the separate questions showed strong support for choice among public schools, but strong opposition, 68% to 26%, to including nonpublic schools in public funding.
The 1991 Gallup/PDK results were matched by a 1991 TIME/CNN poll showing opposition to vouchers for nonpublic schools running 68% to 28%. Similarly, in a November 1990 Oregon referendum on a voucher-like scheme, strongly supported by J. Danforth Quayle, voters turned down the scheme 67% to 33%.
The bottom line, simply, is that while most Americans favor choice within publicly accountable public education, a solid majority oppose every significant form of tax aid or support for nonpublic schools, as polls and state-wide referenda from coast to coast have consistently shown for the past quarter century.
Surely, both the Gallup organization and the National Catholic Educational Association know their 1992 poll is not a valid test of public opinion. So, one must ask, should we support private schools run by people whose opinion poll ethics are so questionable?
Edd Doerr is executive director of Americans for Religious Liberty.