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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Monica Potts and Mary Radcliffe probe a question of increasing interest for parents of students in  “Politicians Want Universal School Vouchers. But What About The Public?” at FiveThirty Eight, and write: “Earlier this week, Florida became the fourth state this year to enact a bill that would allow parents to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools, joining Iowa, Utah and Arkansas. At least 18 other states have introduced similar bills this term….But public opinion doesn’t suggest there’s a mandate — it suggests that support for such bills is complicated, varying by state, program design and how the polling questions are asked. Still, these bills are being considered at the same time that support for public schools is declining, especially among Republicans, which could be helping them gain momentum across the country.”….National polls on universal vouchers or education savings accounts, as they’re sometimes known, reveal that opinions are mixed — and that often has to do with how pollsters present the questions. According to February polling from Morning Consult/EdChoice, American adults support a voucher system by 28 points (43 percent support its use in K-12 education and 15 percent oppose, with an additional 26 percent saying they never heard of school vouchers), but that figure jumps to 44 points (65 percent support and 21 percent oppose) when the pollster defines vouchers as a system that “allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools. If this policy were adopted, tax dollars currently allocated to a school district would be allocated to parents in the form of a ’school voucher’ to pay partial or full tuition for the child’s school.”

Potts and Radcliffe note further that “A month later, a survey from Reuters/Ipsos found support for vouchers underwater by 15 points (36 percent support and 51 percent oppose). But the way the question was asked may have a lot to do with the dramatic difference in results: Americans were asked if they supported “[l]aws allowing government money to send students to private and religious schools, even if it reduces money for public schools.” This language emphasizes reduced funding to public schools, which is broadly unpopular, without mentioning potential benefits for parents and students….At the state level, results depend not only on question wording but also how the programs in question are designed. In Texas, for example, a RABA Research poll asked 512 adults on March 17 to 18 if they supported “diverting tax revenue away from neighborhood public schools to use for private school vouchers” — 66 percent opposed while 34 percent supported. This was the only statewide survey to show the voucher program underwater, and also the only survey to note that tax funds might be diverted away from public schools. In nearly every poll in which the question has been asked, respondents say public schools are underfunded, so including this language may impact the results….a Des Moines Register poll earlier this month — which specified the amount of funding, that it was taxpayer-funded, could be used for private school tuition and that it had been debated or passed in the state legislature — found only 34 percent support, a net unfavorable of 28 points.” Cutting through the fog, it certainly sounds like public support for school vouchers in polls is very much affected by whether or not survey respondents are reminded that the vouchers mean less money for public schools.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis is quickly turning his state’s educational system into a disaster of unprecedented proportions. In “Who Wants to Teach in Florida? Gov. Ron DeSantis’s culture warmongering has helped produce the highest teacher vacancy rates in the country,” Lucy Goldmansour explains at The American Prospect: “Gov. Ron DeSantis wants Florida’s K-12 educators to do as they’re told. On top of low pay, difficulties in securing long-term contracts, the stress of high-stakes testing, and increases in student mental health issues, public school teachers must stick to the governor’s conservative script or risk being fired. That script includes the Parental Rights in Education Act, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the Stop WOKE Act, and the recent statewide ban on College Board’s Advanced Placement African American studies curriculum….These developments have contributed to the highest teacher vacancy rate in the country by creating a climate of paranoia that has exasperated many teachers, chased others out of the profession entirely, and deterred aspiring educators. Culture-war turmoil combined with the pandemic era’s tight labor market means that Florida and most Deep South states have struggled to recruit teachers. When the far-right Republican became governor in 2019, there were 2,217 vacant teacher positions in Florida. As of early January, there were about 5,300 openings statewide….In 2022, Florida allocated an additional $250 million over the previous fiscal year to increase teacher salaries. While the funding boosted the base salary for new teachers to $47,500, the pay increase for experienced teachers did not even cover cost-of-living increases. Overall, the pay raise bumped the state up from 49th to 48th in average teacher pay nationwide, according to the National Education Association. DeSantis has proposed $200 million in more funding for teacher pay in his fiscal 2023-2024 budget, which according to the FEA, will hardly move the needle. “Pay in the third-largest state can and should rank in the top 10 nationally,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a statement.” None of this bodes well for DeSantis’s chances to win the presidency, and it provides the state Democratic Party with a potentially-pivotal issue.

Ryan Tarinelli reports on possibilities for congressional action to address gun violence at CQ Roll Call, and writes: “The shooting at a private school in Nashville has reignited a debate in Congress over American gun violence, but there’s still no clear line for lawmakers to pass further legislation on the issue….The deaths of three children and three adults at the school Monday prompted President Joe Biden and some congressional Democrats to renew calls for legislation to ban assault weapons or bolster the background check system, which Republicans have opposed….In the House, Democrats expressed a desire to act to address gun violence — and alluded to the minority party needing some Republicans to join on something like a discharge petition to force a floor vote on a bill. Such a move would need support from a majority of the House members….Congress sought to address school shootings and other forms of gun violence through a bipartisan legislative package passed last year after public outrage over a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas. The law, which required more thorough background checks for gun purchasers under 21 years old but also invested in school-based mental health services and school safety, got support from 14 of the 207 House Republicans who voted….Democrats this year are pushing for more to be done on the issue of gun violence. Earlier this month, Mr. Biden rolled out an executive order aimed at upping the number of background checks on firearm sales. In particular, he said the executive order directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to take every lawful action possible to move “as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation.”….Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin, in the hours after the shooting Monday, urged his colleagues in a floor speech to come together and ban assault weapons that can shoot 83 rounds in a minute.” No one expects anything stronger than a very modest strengthening of background checks requirements, if that. While Democrats are debating the strategic value of getting Republican Senators on the record regarding the sale of AR-15 style weapons, there will be no legislative action in the House under Republican leadership.

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