School vouchers stumble in survey

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Most parents who responded to an April survey oppose the Douglas County School District’s voucher program, but the district calls the results “inconclusive” because of the 6 percent response rate.

Of the nearly 5,000 parents who responded, 55 percent gave unfavorable ratings to the voucher program; 29 percent gave it a thumbs-up; and the remainder fell into neutral territory.

The district staged a presentation on the survey at Tuesday’s school board meeting and then released the results, following open records requests from the public and the news media.

Results of a student survey also were released. Both parents and students generally gave high marks on satisfaction with the quality of education.

The district hired a national firm to craft and conduct the survey, which included questions about its controversial voucher program and asset management as well as general satisfaction with the district and schools.

A total of about 76,500 parents received the survey. Curiously, 3,500 of the 4,900 responses came within a day of the survey’s release, with the remaining 1,400 trickling in.

“So there were people waiting for it,” chief system performance officer Syna Morgan said during a June 15 meeting in district offices. “One of the most contentious topics is the choice scholarship program. Based on this survey, 55 percent of the parent population is unfavorable (toward it). That may be true, but we don’t know that to be true.”

Morgan said a return rate as low as 2.5 percent could be considered valid, “if you know it represents the population as a whole.” As it is, she said, “There could be decision or interpretations made based on data that does not represent the total parent population perspective.”

Colorado-based pollster and political analyst Floyd Ciruli said a 6 percent return rate that represents nearly 5,000 people is not low, especially given the district’s historic return rate of about 10 percent.

“The real question would be, was it overwhelmingly filled out by people who really don’t like some policy?” he said. “It is absolutely true you tend to get most of the responses very quickly. It’s just a sign that the topic of education there is of high interest and there’s some controversy.”

Morgan would like to resend the survey this fall, and launch a campaign to encourage more responses.

Board member Meghann Silverthorn questioned the idea that the existing results aren’t valid.

“I do agree we need to reassess,” she said. “Anyone who responds to a survey, that particular opinion is valid in and of itself. Would you consider the results as they sit?”

“I definitely agree every opinion counts,” Morgan said. “For my office, the purpose of the data is to evaluate our performance. I would not evaluate our performance based on the data.”

By resending the survey this fall, Morgan believes the district could get a 30 percent response rate, which she said is the industry standard.

Board members asked Morgan if it’s realistic to expect to triple the district’s 10 percent average return.

Morgan said districts using vigorous campaigns to urge responses have seen return rates as high as 85 percent.

“If parents know this input had an impact into how the district would improve itself, they would definitely have more of an interest in being involved,” she said.

The student survey generated a similar response rate. To see both the parent and student surveys, visit: https://dcsdk12.org/Newsroom/index.htm

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