The following is a guest article written by Jason Bedrick, Director of Policy for EdChoice. Previously, he was policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He also served as a legislator in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and was an education policy research fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
Although most Granite Staters are unfamiliar with the education savings accounts (ESAs), a clear majority of those who have an opinion about ESAs are in favor of them, according to a new poll by the University of New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 193, a bill that would provide families with state-funded ESAs that they could use for a wide variety of educational options, including private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, educational therapy, and more.
The UNH poll found that most Granite Staters (57 percent) said they hadn’t heard about the ESA proposal, while a minority had heard about it “a great deal” (7 percent), “a moderate amount” (13 percent), or “only a little” (22 percent). Although there is still a long way to go, these results show a significant improvement in awareness of ESAs relative to EdChoice’s survey last April, in which 76 percent of NH voters said they were “slightly” or “not at all” familiar with ESAs.
Overall, Granite Staters were more likely to support ESAs than to oppose them. The UNH poll found that a plurality of 40 percent supported the ESA proposal while 33 percent opposed it, 9 percent were neutral, and 18 percent “didn’t know” or were “not sure.”
Among Granite Staters who expressed an opinion about ESAs, there is clear majority support for the concept: 55 percent of those with an opinion supported ESAs compared to 45 percent who were opposed. Republicans expressed the strongest support (68 percent in favor versus 32 percent opposed), followed by Independents (60 percent in favor versus 40 percent opposed). Democrats tended to oppose ESAs, with 44 percent of those expressing an opinion being in favor and 56 percent being opposed.
The UNH poll results are similar to what EdChoice found last spring. Unlike the UNH poll, which gave respondents the option of saying they were neutral or not sure, the EdChoice poll forced respondents to take a position. Reading the two polls together, it appears that a majority of the neutral or unsure voters are more likely to support ESAs if pressed to take a position.
According to EdChoice, 58 percent of New Hampshire voters supported the ESA proposal versus 31 percent who were opposed. Support was even higher among parents of school-aged children (71 percent versus 23 percent), Republicans (63 percent versus 26 percent), low-income voters (63 percent to 23 percent), middle-income voters (62 percent to 32 percent), voters without a college degree (64 percent to 24 percent), and Granite Staters aged 18 to 34 (65 percent to 21 percent) and aged 35 to 54 (67 percent to 26 percent).
Similarly, the UNH poll found that “Respondents with a high school education or less, […] Manchester Area and Connecticut Valley residents, self-described conservatives, and those aged 18 to 34 are more likely than others to strongly or somewhat support the bill.”
Of course, it matters how the ESAs are designed. When the EdChoice poll asked half of the respondents whether they believed ESAs should be “available to all families, regardless of income or special needs,” 61 percent agreed the ESAs should be available to all and 32 percent disagreed. The other half of respondents were asked whether they believed ESAs should be “available to families based on financial need.” Only 37 percent agreed while 55 percent disagreed.
What both polls make clear is that voters who are informed about ESAs are much more likely to support them—especially when ESAs are open to all. It’s incumbent upon advocates and policymakers to make sure that all Granite Staters are aware of the potential that ESAs have to expand educational opportunity.