Local Demand For School Choice: Evidence from the Washington Charter School Referenda
Sean Corcoran and Christiana Stoddard
IESP Working Paper #09-01
Many U.S. states provide public funding for charter schools-deregulated and privately managed schools operating in direct competition with government-run schools. While the impact of charter schools on student achievement and sorting has been intensely studied, less is known about the demand for these alternatives. Using precinct-level returns from three ballot referenda in Washington State, we assess the relative importance of school quality and community characteristics in explaining voter support for charter schools. We find that low student achievement predicts greater charter support across school districts, but is relatively unimportant in explaining variation across precincts within districts. Residents of districts with more highly qualified teachers and greater local spending were less likely to favor charters, as were districts with high teacher union membership. The strongest predictor at all levels was political partisanship: areas with more Republican voters were strongly and consistently more likely to vote in favor of charter schools.