VCU Commonwealth Education Poll Finds Majority of Virginians Support Homeschool Sport Participation and Pre-Labor Day School Opening

Virginians support allowing students who are homeschooled to participate on local public school sport teams, and they also support allowing school districts to start classes before Labor Day, according to a new state-wide survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll found more than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) favored allowing students who are homeschooled to participate on local public school sport teams, and 68 percent favored allowing localities to have the option to start the public school calendar before Labor Day.  

There were regional differences on the issue of homeschooler participation in public school sports; however, all had majority support. Residents in northwest and northern Virginia were the most supportive, with 73 percent and 72 percent in favor, and Tidewater was the least supportive of the option, with 56 percent.  

Income played a role in opinion on the issue of local choice on the school calendar. Of respondents making $100,000 or more last year, 80 percent favored localities having the choice to start school before Labor Day. Only 59 percent of those making less than $50,000 felt the same; although in either case, a majority supported localities having the option.

This year saw a modest increase in majority support for charter school programs in Virginia, with 61 percent of respondents supporting the program, an increase of 5 percent over the last time the question was asked in 2009-10.

There were significant regional differences on this issue. South central Virginia respondents were the most likely to support the concept of charter schools with 70 percent. The Tidewater and northern Virginia areas also had clear majorities in support, with 64 percent and 60 percent, respectively. The northwest and the west regions were the least likely to support, with 54 percent and 53 percent respectively.

There was a similar increase in support for changing the Virginia Constitution in order to give charter schools greater independence from local school boards; however, there was still no clear majority, with 42 percent of respondents supporting changing the Constitution, an increase of 5 percent from the last time the question was asked in 2009-10 and 41 percent opposed to making the change.

When respondents were asked to select which type of school they thought would provide the best education, 47 percent indicated regular public school as their choice and 32 percent said private school. A much smaller percentage indicated a charter school (8 percent), home school (6 percent) and virtual school (1 percent.)

Public school employees and retirees and parents of public school students were the most likely to choose public school with 57 percent and 55 percent, respectively, indicating the option.

“Virginians are very supportive of providing local school divisions with greater options for how they do business, specifically control over their school calendars,” said William C. Bosher, Jr., executive director, Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute and distinguished professor of public policy in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "While surprising and not without challenges, strong majorities support homeschool participation in public school athletics.”

Graham noted the increase of support for charter schools since the last time that issue was surveyed.

“An increase in support over the past three years indicates that a solid majority of Virginians (61 percent) now favor charter school programs,” said Farrah Stone Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and director of the survey.

The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 27, 2012, to Jan. 3, 2013, with a random sample of 827 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. This poll is conducted annually by VCU’s Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute (CEPI.)

The entire 13-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results, visit http://www.cepi.vcu.edu/comm_ed_poll.html.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.