American Populist Support for Choice in K-12 Education

Benjamin Scafidi, Kennesaw State University
Eric Wearne, Kennesaw State University


In this article, we explore why American populists may be attracted to the educational choice. Though populist factions may support either elitist institutions and policies or institutions and policies that promote pluralism in the short term, their motivations and interests over the long term may diverge from elitism and pluralism in important ways. After discussing why some pluralists support a system of educational choice, we describe the populist choice supporters of both the right and the left and a taxonomy of potential reasons for their support. We divide the taxonomy into three groups of reasons populists may have turned against the conventional public education system and turned toward choice: a lack of candor from the public education system; failures to achieve equity in the public system; and technocracy and other limits on the diversity of offerings within the public system. The final section offers a warning to choice-supporting pluralists that, under certain conditions, populist support for choice could wane in the future. That change of opinion could result in more families choosing some form of homeschooling, an abandonment of legislative and policy support for current choice programs, and/or renewed efforts in the culture war–which may have a profound effect on K-12 education policy more broadly.