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Poll: Californians have rosier view of their schools and want to fund them more

Craig Clough | September 12, 2016

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California’s voters have an improved view of public education in the state and want to increase the funds schools get, according to an annual PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll.

Researchers noted that voters’ optimism regarding their local public schools has reached a high point since the poll began five years ago.

Twenty-three percent of Californians said their local public schools have “gotten better” over the past few years while 30 percent said they have “gotten worse.” When asked in 2012, only 14 percent said schools had gotten better and 45 percent said schools had gotten worse. In the 2015 poll, 17 percent said schools had “gotten better” and 34 percent said they had “gotten worse.”

The poll’s authors noted that the changes in Californians’ opinion about their schools come as recent national polling data have shown that the public’s views toward their local schools have remained relatively unchanged since 2000.

“Those changes (in California) are quite dramatic, and while not a stellar view of how things are going, but compared to how things were in the dark days of massive budget cuts and increasing class sizes, voters have a much rosier view of public schools in California and local public schools in particular,” Ben Tulchin, president and founder of Tulchin Research, said on a phone call with reporters. “There is still a long way to go but that is — you rarely see that kind of shift in opinion in public schools.”

Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of USC Rossier School of Education and a researcher behind the poll, said some reasons for the improved view of schools include the increase in funding since Proposition 30 and relatively less turmoil in the state over Common Core, testing and accountability, in large part because the state has not linked teacher evaluations to test scores. 

On the other hand, what voters don’t know might prop up those rosier views.

“Over last several years, California hasn’t had an accountability system statewide,” he said, so without the old API score, “it could be that schools are perceived as getting better because there is less information out there.”

When asked what California can do to improve perceptions of schools even more, Polikoff said: “Actually improve the schools. While voters want to spend more money on schools and teachers, they really see that reforming schools and improving teachers as inexplicably tied to that increased funding.” Accountability “could go a long way toward improving attitudes toward schools.”

The bipartisan poll was conducted by Tulchin Research, which is known for polling for Democratic candidates, and Moore Information, which is known for polling on behalf of Republican candidates.

Voters are also showing strong support for Proposition 55, a measure on the November statewide ballot that would extend for 12 years an income tax increase on individuals earning $250,000 or more per year to help boost education and healthcare funding. Sixty-nine percent of voters showed support for the measure. Seventy-seven percent of voters also said the state should be spending more on education.

“As you can see, voters feel there has been progress with schools and they don’t want to lose this source of funding since progress has been made over the last several years,” Tulchin said.

The poll found that Republicans in the state appear to be in favor of raising taxes to help improve schools, even though that voting block traditionally is against higher taxes. Sixty-two percent of Republicans responded as being in favor of spending more money to help schools. They are also split on Prop. 55, with 51 percent being in favor of approving it or leaning toward approving it, compared to 47 percent being opposed or leaning in opposition to it.

“It’s remarkable in a ballot measure that is going to cost more money for Republicans not to be widely opposed,” said Bob Moore, principal and founder of Moore Information.

But the poll found that the new money for schools needs to be paired with accountability; 96 percent said they believe public schools and districts should be held accountable for spending education dollars efficiently. Sixty-two percent of the voters said they believe increasing funding for schools and reforming operations are critical for improving public education.

When asked what is more important in improving schools, reforming operations outscored increased funding, 26 percent to 15 percent.

“Our results suggest that California voters see some improvements in their local schools,” Polikoff said. “What these results indicate is that voters want to keep funding schools to sustain these improvements. However, voters are also saying that money alone won’t solve our education challenges —accountability must be an important part of the improvement effort.”

The poll also found very low awareness among voters on the state’s school funding law, the Local Control Funding Formula, and a high level of support for increasing pay for teachers.

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