Palmetto Promise Institute – Poll: SC parents think K-12 education is on the “wrong track,” overwhelmingly support school choice

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Palmetto Promise Institute (PPI), a state-based think tank, today released new polling data showing South Carolina voters have serious concerns about their K-12 education system despite overwhelmingly believing the state is on the right track.

“There’s a stark divide in opinion between the direction voters think our state is heading versus the direction they think our educational system is heading,” said Oran P. Smith, PhD, Senior Fellow at PPI. “That gap creates an enormous opportunity for a statewide conversation about improving outcomes and access for all South Carolina families.”

The poll of 500 registered voters was conducted March 4-7 by the eminent national polling firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Voters with knowledge of school choice were strongly in favor. Specifically, voters showed overwhelming support for education savings accounts, or ESAs, which allow families to customize an educational experience for their students that can go beyond private school tuition—including tutoring, services for students with special needs and other tailored programs. Voters showed 4:1 support for the ESA model after a brief explanation.

South Carolina currently operates two school choice programs—a tax-credit scholarship program and a refundable tax credit—for students with special needs.

“South Carolina parents aren’t content with the direction of their school system, and they are ready for changes like school choice,” said Smith. “School choice is proof that knowledge is power. Once families understand how it works, they want it to happen.”


  • 3 out of 5 voters (60%) say things in South Carolina are going in the right direction, but nearly 3 out of 5 voters (58%) say things in K–12 education in South Carolina have seriously gotten off on the wrong track.
  • Pessimism cuts across party and racial lines, with a majority of Democrats, Republicans and all racial groups saying the state’s K-12 schools are going in the wrong direction.
  • Voters with children currently enrolled in a K–12 school in South Carolina (n=118) were asked what type of school they would select to obtain the best education for their child if it were their decision and financial costs and transportation were of no concern:
    • Nearly 3 out of 10 (28%) would select a private non-religious school
    • More than one-fourth (26%) would select a public school
    • Nearly one-fifth (19%) would select a private religious school
    • Nearly one-sixth (16%) would opt to homeschool
    • One out of 10 (10%) would select a charter school
  • More than half of voters (53%) have seen, read or heard at least some about school choice in South Carolina. Without being provided a definition, 41 percent of voters favor school choice and nine percent oppose, with more than one-fourth (27%) saying they strongly favor school choice.
  • After hearing a definition of ESAs, more than three-fourths of voters (75%) are in favor (with 45% saying strongly favor). This support spans major demographics:
    • Liberal (77%)
    • Conservative (77%)
    • Moderate (72%)
    • African Americans (89%)
    • White (71%)
    • Working Class (81%)

Please contact Lawson Mansell at for more information about the poll.

Further details on the poll: Survey project & profilemethods, and results.