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Voters favor extra funds for poor students but not English learners

A majority of Californians support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to provide additional funding to districts with more low-income and English learner students, according to a newly released poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Of 1,705 adults interviewed, the PPIC’s ninth annual survey of Californians and education, released late Wednesday, found that among all adults, 71 percent support the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). However, approval drops to 60 percent among likely voters.

Responses also vary by political affiliation, race/ethnicity and income, with 80 percent of Democrats favoring the plan – nearly twice the rate of Republicans; more Latinos support it, as do families earning under $40,000 per year, who would be more likely to benefit from the change.

Support for Gov. Brown's Local Control Funding Formula by political party, race, ethnicity, and income.  Source: PPIC.  (Click to enlarge).

Support for Gov. Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula by political party, race, ethnicity and income. Source: PPIC. (Click to enlarge)

However, when asked about each group separately, only 40 percent of likely voters favor extra money for English learners, while 52 percent support additional funding for poor students. That also breaks down differently by race and ethnicity, with Latino respondents showing the highest support and white respondents the lowest.

The survey also found an overwhelming 79 percent support among voters for the idea of giving local school districts more flexibility over how to spend their budgets. This is a main component of the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula, and one of his strongly held philosophies, which Brown often refers by its Catholic terminology, “the principle of subsidiarity.”

Oddly, just 32 percent of voters said the governor is doing a good job of handling K-12 education – only one percentage point above the Legislature’s approval rating.

At the same time, the PPIC report finds that public confidence in public schools is on the rise, perhaps because the current state budget is the first in years that doesn’t contain cuts in education funding. In last year’s survey, 58 percent of respondents said quality of education was a big problem in California; this year that fell to 49 percent.

“The mood about the state of California’s public schools has brightened somewhat with an improving economy and budget situation,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, in a written statement. “But many Californians are still worried about how state funding will affect their local public schools.”

Results of the PPIC survey are somewhat in line with a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll released last month, although, as EdSource Today noted at that time, differences in the phrasing of questions led to different levels of support for the governor’s funding proposal. The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll described LCFF as “diverting” money from wealthier school districts to poorer districts, whereas PPIC’s question refers to the plan as including “new K–12 school funding that will mostly go to local school districts that have more English language learners and lower-income students.”

In other findings of the PPIC survey:

  • 63 percent say funding for their local public schools is too low, but likely voters are not inclined to approve parcel taxes as a way of raising money for their schools.  Just 51 percent supported this revenue stream, which requires a two-thirds vote of the school district community to pass.
  • 66 percent cite the high school dropout rate as a bigger problem than student achievement and teacher quality;
  • 76 percent say a key role of K-12 education is preparing students for college, with 91 percent of Latinos rating this high compared with 90 percent of African Americans, 76 percent of Asians, and 63 percent of white respondents.

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