(The Center Square) – The majority of Arkansas voters support school choice, including 43% of Democrats, according to a new poll released this week.
The poll, conducted by advocacy and research organization Opportunity Arkansas, asked voters if they support or oppose “educational freedom” in Arkansas and found nearly 60% said they supported it. Pollsters questioned 521 likely Arkansas voters between Oct. 24 and Oct. 27.
Support was highest among Republican voters at 74% and a majority of independent voters at 56%. Forty-three percent of Democrat voters also said they were in favor of it.
“My takeaway is that there is actually very widespread bipartisan support for this and that’s very counter to what you tend to hear and read in the news,” Opportunity Arkansas Founder and CEO Nic Horton told The Center Square.
Education Freedom Accounts were a major component of the LEARNS Act, passed earlier this year and allows parents to decide what school their child attends regardless of zip code.
The accounts cover private school tuition, fees, uniforms, and other expenses, up to $6,600 for the 2023-2024 school year, for eligible families, according to the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.
However, the LEARNS Act faced backlash from opponents before and after its passage.
“Defenders of the status quo have waged a nonstop campaign of chaos and confusion, working overtime to tarnish the public’s opinion of LEARNS,” said Horton. “These efforts included a frivolous lawsuit, which the Arkansas Supreme Court scoffed at, a failed ballot petition campaign, and a constant barrage of negative headlines from the state media. But even so, these latest poll numbers leave no doubt about where voters stand on the most transformational part of the LEARNS Act: Arkansans support education freedom and putting students first in our education system.”
The Arkansas Education Association supported parts of the bill but opposed the Education Freedom Accounts.
AEA President Carol B. Fleming told Chalkboard News the accounts would move money away from rural school districts.
“We need to be investing in our schools, not taking money away from our public schools and putting them into private schools,” Fleming said.
Horton told The Center Square the widespread support for LEARNS was evidenced by how quickly the ballot petition failed.
“They couldn’t even get enough signatures to trigger the first phase of review on the signatures. They fell short on the very first threshold,” said Horton.
Horton went on to say he anticipates support will continue to grow as more parents see the impacts of the policy.
“My gut says this is a baseline, this is not the ceiling, this is the floor of what we’re going to see and we’re going to continue to see support for education freedom increase across the board as people learn more about it and they see the benefits of what it means for their family,” Horton said.