Poll finds the less you make, the more you like Brown's school finance reform



More California voters favor than oppose Gov. Jerry Brown’s sweeping plan to reform school finance, and most are against the idea of lowering the threshold for approving local school parcel taxes from two-thirds to a 55 percent majority, according to a new statewide poll.

Polls show mixed support for Gov. Jerry Brown's Local Control Funding Formula.

Gov. Jerry Brown

An even 50 percent of respondents told pollsters they favored – while 39 percent opposed – the idea of having “some money diverted from middle and upper class children to low income children and English language learners.” That’s a key element of the Local Control Funding Formula for schools that the governor is proposing to phase in over the next seven years. Brown plans to use increased revenue from Proposition 30, approved in November, and the growth in state revenues, and he adds the caveat that, in shifting resources to needy children, no district will receive less money than it currently spends.

Results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll of 1,501 registered voters broke down along economic and ethnic lines, with those whose children would likely benefit being more supportive of Brown’s plan.

“There’s a real dividing line. ‘What’s in it for my kids?’ is probably what the divide is,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which conducted the poll, in a statement. Of those who make less than $50,000 per year, 63 percent back the plan, while 45 percent of those earning more than $50,000 and 42 percent earning more than $100,000 like it. Latinos favored it 67 percent to 26 percent opposed, while 42 percent of whites said they support the plan with 46 percent against it.

The lukewarm backing of Brown’s plan in the poll, released on Sunday, differs from findings of a January poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California of 1,704 adults, not just registered voters. That poll found significant support for the funding proposal – and proved that phrasing matters. While the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times wording mentioned “diverting” money from wealthy to poor students, PPIC’s question asked, “Governor Brown’s budget plan includes new K–12 school funding that will mostly go to local school districts that have more English language learners and lower income students. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?” Seventy-five percent said they supported it, 21 percent opposed and 3 percent said they didn’t know.

Here are the responses to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times questions on the parcel tax (#19) and the Local Control Funding Formula (#20). The columns, from left are strongly favir, somewhat favor, somewhat opposed, strong opposed, don't know (DK) and refused for all respondents, white and Latino voters (click to enlarge).

Here are the responses to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times questions on the parcel tax (#19) and the Local Control Funding Formula (#20). The columns, from left, are strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose, don’t know (DK) and refused for all respondents (top line), white and Latino voters. (Click to enlarge)

“There is a lot of public support in investing in vulnerable kids. It depends how the question is framed,” said Samantha Tran, director of education policy for Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy organization that favors Brown’s proposal.

The other key element of Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula is to give local districts more control over how education dollars are spent. Many of the state rules dictating specific spending in areas like school bus transportation, vocational training and summer school – those specified in the USC Dornsife poll – would be rescinded. USC Dornsife found 59 percent supported giving districts more flexibility, with 31 percent opposed. PPIC phrased the question differently, asking whether voters had confidence school boards, given more control, would “use this money wisely.” Seventy-one percent said they were very or somewhat confident school boards would do so, while 30 percent said they had little or no confidence in their local boards to make the right calls.

Brown has proposed the new financing plan as part the 2013-14 budget, which legislators will vote on before July 1. Voters won’t have a direct say in the outcome, although their legislators, particularly those in suburban and wealthy districts, will be listening to constituents.

Voters, however, may get a say over a 55 percent threshold for passing a parcel tax, if two-thirds of legislators approve putting a constitutional amendment on the issue before voters in 2014. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is proposing to do so with Senate Constitutional Amendment 3. Brown has not taken a position on the amendment.

Here again, the USC Dornsife/LA Times and PPIC polls came up with different findings. The former gave two arguments, by supporters and opponents, and let voters choose (see pages 4 and 5 of poll). The argument in support, noting that California ranks nearly last in per-student spending, said that requiring fewer votes “would give local districts more control to improve their own schools.” Overall, 41 percent said they agreed with the argument and supported lowering the threshold. The supporters included a bare majority – 52 percent – of Democrats but only 37 percent of parents.

The USC Dornsife/LA Times argument against characterized the proposal as “just throwing money at the problem” and pointed out that voters had just passed Proposition 30 in November, raising the statewide sales and income taxes, “and now some people want to raise even more taxes with no guarantee the additional money will go to the classroom.” Forty-eight percent of respondents agreed with that statement and did not support lowering the vote threshold.

The PPIC question was more straightforward, asking whether respondents agreed with lowering the requirement to 55 percent “for voters to pass local parcel taxes for the local public schools?” Fifty-seven percent of adults overall, including two-thirds of parents, favored the idea, but only 51 percent of likely voters supported it.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. The PPIC poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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12 Responses to “Poll finds the less you make, the more you like Brown's school finance reform”

  1. Paul Muench said

    on March 26, 2013 at 6:12 am

    The latest edition of the Atlantic has an article saying that the poorest Americans give a higher percentage of income to charity than the richest Americans. In experiments the giving rate tended to equality when richer people were made aware of the needs being addressed. So maybe not all about self interest.

    • navigio replied

      on March 26, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Probably the most interesting point in that Atlantic article for me was that increased segregation depresses charitable giving to organizations of need. Not surprising; out of sight, out of mind.

      I wonder how much those numbers are impacted by the fact that for many families, their largest charitable contribution is likely their own child’s school and larger donor amounts are greatly impacted by the extent to which other families decide to give.

      I had the opportunity to speak with a couple families this weekend from rather affluent schools (one in an otherwise urban district, the other in a basic aid district). Suffice it to say, there is little recognition of the needs of children in schools that are slated to benefit from brown’s proposal, even while there is real understanding of the value associated with the benefits those communities can afford themselves. Not that it matters at the state level what the smaller, more affluent voting block thinks.

      The findings of this poll are not surprising. Especially the discrepancy found when using the term ‘divert’.

  2. jskdn said

    on March 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I wonder if some poll respondents might have thought that redistributing the money would be done in order to equalize funding rather than the opposite? Did they understand that the change would result significantly higher funding per student for low income children and English language learners, that would be in addition to the existing supplemental federal education funding that goes to that population, than the funding levels for middle and upper class students?

  3. Deborah said

    on March 27, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    My question is how are the needs of students with disabilities (SWD) -the lowest performing subgroup of all subgroups in California – will fare under Governor Brown’s shift of funding from more affluent to lower income and to students who are ELL? The SWD population, which makes up 10 – 12 percent of California’s students, are found in affluent, middle income, and poorer districts, in urban schools, as well as those suburban and rural, yet have been completely “disappeared” from all the discussions regarding improving educational outcomes for California’s most vulnuerable students in the current round of budget deliberations. Talk about “out of sight, out of mind.”

    • navigio replied

      on March 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      It’s a great question Deborah. Brown’s LCFF excludes special education (as well as a few other categorical programs–the LAO analysis on this site has a good explanation of what is included and what is not). So normally, this means the status quo, which is of course both the Feds and state continuing to under-fund special education. However, this is not the normal case. Because LCFF would reduce restrictions on the use of a lot more money, I expect at least some of that increased funding would be used to fund special education programs (just as some general fund revenue is used to do that now). The amount that is considered appropriate would probably depend on the demographics on the district in question given there are some extremely disproportionate classification rates for subgroups that will likely overlap with the intended targets of LCFF. It will be interesting to see how those decisions pan out.

      • navigio replied

        on March 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm

        Sorry, I meant unrestricted general fund revenue..

  4. el said

    on March 28, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I think you could word this poll 5 different ways and get 5 quite different results, particularly since the general public doesn’t know much if anything about this proposal.

  5. edfundwonk said

    on March 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    It’s ironic that DOF (in the Budget Summary) criticizes the current Special Education funding formula established by AB 602 (1997)[although apparently subsequently amended] as having become “unnecessarily complicated over time with certain components creating funding inequities among special education local plan areas,” when AB 602 was intended to reduce the complexity of the then-current funding system.

    Prior to 1997, special education was funded based on instructional setting – Special Day Class (SDC), Designated Instructional Services (DIS), and Resource Specialist Program (RSP). The funding system was so complex that at least one consultant built an entire career around teaching districts how to game the system, er, I mean, maximize their funding.

    At the direction of the Legislature, the DOF, LAO, and SDE met many times to devise a simpler funding system. In researching various options, they found that, across Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), the total cost of providing special education services of all types relative to the total revenue limit funding was remarkably similar. The one exception was students with certain low-incidence, high-cost disabilities, the number and cost of whom were distributed among SELPAs in no predictable way.

    Armed with this information, the committee made the following recommendations, which subsequently were incorporated in AB 602:

    1. Combine all special education funding from state and local sources
    2. From this total, first fund the needs of students with low-incidence, high-cost disabilities
    3. Distribute the remainder among SELPAS in proportion to their total ADA
    4. Require the SELPAs to allocate these amounts among the school districts that comprised them.

    The new system was intended to have the following advantages:

    1. It eliminated incentives to place pupils in settings based on cost.
    2. It supported local control
    3. It removed the State from arguments over the fairness of the allocation of funding within SELPAs

    I wonder what happened?

    • navigio replied

      on March 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Thanks for that great overview (as usual) edufundwonk. It seems the primary change being proposed is to remove the federal portion from the calculation. Why would that make any difference? Would it go directly to the SELPA in that case or first to the state then to the SELPA? I assume a SELPA is required to distribute among its districts according to a similar formula?

  6. John Fensterwald said

    on March 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I’ll second navigio. Thanks for the historical perspective, edfundwonk.

  7. Deborah said

    on March 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Whatever the funding model or mechanism, the result has been the same, SWDs NOT making appropriate progress (which on its face would constitute a denial of FAPE, followed by the removal of this population from all accountability under the CAHSEE with any alternative form of assessment extended out several years, despite CDE’s admission it is clearly possible. As a result an entire generation of SWDs have passed through and “graduated” from California’s public school system since the Public School Accountability Act was first enacted in 1999 despite the fact they are not accessing or making progress according to state standards, which is a requirement under both NCLB and IDEA. It’s as if nothing has changed.

    Now this population isn’t even part of the discussion. When we can’t even admit to having a problem, there is little chance a solution to it will ever be found. And yet the funding continues as if there were progress, compliance, what have you.

    I won’t even go into the nightmares parents of SWDs are facing in trying to get their local education agency to provide the minimum of services and I am not referring to the “low-incidence high-cost” kids.

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