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Wisconsin Spotlight | Jan. 28, 2021

MADISON — A majority of respondents want kids and teachers back in the classroom, according to a new statewide poll. 

The statewide education poll, commissioned by School Choice Wisconsin, asked 800 likely voters in Wisconsin about their thoughts on school closures during the pandemic, enrollment options, and other aspects of parental empowerment in education. The results were released during National School Choice Week. 

Amid growing frustration about inadequate virtual education, 62 percent of respondents said they want schools to be open with some form of in-person education. 

A new article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds K-12 schools that restarted in-person education last fall show scant evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19. The overview conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention included a study tracking 11 North Carolina school districts with north of 90,000 students and staff. Researchers found just 32 infections at the schools over a nine-week period. That compares to 773 cases of students and teachers outside school. No teacher or staff was infected by students who tested positive, the study found.  

The CDC overview also includes a study of 17 K-12 schools in rural Wisconsin, where COVID-19 incidence was lower in the schools than in the broader community. Those schools had a high mask adherence rate, the study found.  

“During 13 weeks in the fall of 2020, there were 191 COVID-19 cases in staff and students, with only 7 of these cases determined to result from in-school transmission,” the review notes. 

The School Choice Wisconsin poll also found 70 percent of respondents support parents being able to transfer public districts if a district does not allow in-person eduction. 

Frustration is growing. Last September parents in Appleton launched a recall campaign against three school board members in an effort to end all-virtual learning. Kenosha public schools changed plans to stall in-person learning last fall following public outrage. 

Republicans in the Legislature have authored bills to force intransigent school districts like Madison’s public school system and their union-led teachers back to the classroom. 

A whopping 88 percent of those surveyed support the idea that teachers are essential workers. 

Among the poll’s other findings: 

— 73% support a change in the mission for the Department of Public Instruction to support all families of students in public, private, charter and homeschool setting. 

— 76% support giving micro-grants to parents in a forced virtual setting to help them purchase equipment or educational services needed to educate their children at home. 

— 64% support utilizing modern enrollment data and techniques for allocating funding in education as opposed to a single count date in each semester. 

— 61% support the Wisconsin School Choice Program. 

“Over the past year, families have experienced changing roles in education with parents also serving as teachers.” Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin said. “Combine these new roles with uncertain economic times and families have had difficulties finding workable solutions. This poll shows the general public thinks parents should have more control in education.” 

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