Seven months before the November election, substantial majorities of likely California voters said they would support extending Proposition 30, the temporary income tax on the wealthiest state residents, and passing a proposed $9 billion school construction bond, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.
PPIC’s 12th annual extensive poll on Californians’ view of K-12 education also revealed that majorities believe a teacher shortage is a big problem and funding for K-12 schools is too low. Among other findings:
- Expressing strong support for state-funded preschool, twice as many Californians said they favor directing a potential state budget surplus to fund preschool than to pay down the state debt;
- Most of those surveyed said their local schools are doing an excellent or good job of preparing students for college but they are very concerned that students in low-income areas are less likely to be ready for college.
- Californians are sharply divided over the Common Core, with slightly more adults supporting the new academic standards than opposing them.
- In almost every area of questioning, African-Americans were the most pessimistic ethnic and racial group when asked about the quality of schools and prospects for change.
- Overall support for how Gov. Jerry Brown has handled public schools has increased steadily since he took office, but his approval rating for education is still under 50 percent, and a quarter of adults say they don’t know enough to say.
Telephone interviews were conducted earlier this month with 1,703 adults in California, half on landlines and half on cell phones. The margin of error ranged from plus/minus 3.5 percent for all adults to plus/minus 7 percent for public school parents. Representative numbers of non-registered and registered voters, including those likely to vote, Democrats, Republicans and Independents and racial and ethnic minorities participated.
Funding for K-12 schools has increased sharply during the past three years, mirroring the state’s economic recovery after big cuts in funding during the recession. However, 60 percent of Californians said that there is not enough funding for their local schools. More women (69 percent) than men (53 percent) and Democrats (73 percent) than Republicans (42 percent) said that’s the case.
The percentage is actually higher this year than when the question was asked during the recession, noted Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. Now that there is more state revenue, Californians are pausing to think about how the money should be spent, including on schools, he said.
Two revenue options likely will be on the November ballot: Prop. 30 and a state construction bond. Among the subset of likely voters, 63 percent favor the bond and 32 percent oppose it, with 4 percent undecided. Among all adults, including non-registered voters, the support is 76 percent in favor, 21 percent opposed.
Brown has said he opposes a state-funded school construction bond because it doesn’t meet his conditions.
The Prop. 30 initiative, which supporters are now gathering signatures for, would extend the income tax increase on individuals earning more than $250,000 and couples earning $500,000 or more. Among all Californians, 64 percent support the extension, 32 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided. Among likely voters, 62 percent back it, 35 percent oppose it and 2 percent haven’t decided. By party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats support it while only 32 percent of Republicans do.
Brown has not stated his position on extending Prop. 30. “The governor’s approval rating is high, and his opinions will matter to voters” come Election Day, Baldassare said.
School districts do have the option to bring in additional money through a local parcel tax, and about 1 in 8 districts have passed one. Asked if they would approve a local parcel tax, 52 percent of likely voters said yes, 43 percent no and 5 percent gave no opinion. However, parcel taxes require at least a 66 percent majority for passage; asked if they would favor lowering the threshold to 55 percent, only 44 percent of likely voters said that would be a good idea.
Eighty-nine percent of all Californians, and 86 percent of likely voters viewed preschool as very or somewhat important to a student’s success in school, and 63 percent of all respondents favor spending a state surplus on additional state preschool funding. However, only 52 percent of likely voters favor using a surplus for preschool funding, with 46 percent saying it should be used to pay down state debt.
Seventy-four percent of all of those surveyed and 71 percent of likely voters said that affordability of preschool is a big problem or somewhat of a problem, and 81 percent of all Californians also said that they are very or somewhat concerned that low-income students will be less likely to be prepared for kindergarten.
Asked about a teacher shortage – a new PPIC line of questioning – 81 percent of all Californians say it is a big problem or somewhat of a problem. Given several options to attract new teachers to K-12 schools, 45 percent of all Californians said they’d prefer raising the minimum salary for teachers, which is the most expensive of the choices, compared with creating a loan forgiveness program (21 percent), housing assistance (11 percent) or lowering the requirements for becoming a teacher (11 percent).
Turning to the issue of teacher quality, 84 percent of all Californians said they are very or somewhat concerned that there are fewer good teachers in schools in low-income areas compared with wealthier areas.
Two-thirds of all adults and three-quarters of public school parents said they know at least something about the Common Core, although 35 percent of public school parents said they were not provided information about the new standards in math and English language arts. Based on what they know, 43 percent of adults favor the standards, while 39 percent oppose them and 18 percent are undecided. More public school parents support them: 51 percent favor, 36 percent oppose. Reflecting a national split on the standards, twice as many Democrats support the standards (46 percent) than Republicans (23 percent).
“Reflecting the 2016 presidential campaign dialogue, Common Core is a politically polarizing issue in California today,” Baldassare said.
Nonetheless, 54 percent of Californians said they are very or somewhat confident that teaching the Common Core will make students college and career ready, and 57 percent said they are very or somewhat confident the new standards will achieve the goal of enabling students to solve problems and think critically.
Nearly three-quarters of public school parents expressed confidence that teachers are adequately prepared to teach the standards. (That view, however, is not held by teachers. In a survey last fall by the research and training organization WestEd, only a quarter of California teachers said they had been adequately trained in the new standards.)
More Latinos (55 percent) and Asians (48 percent) than African-Americans (37 percent) and whites (34 percent) said they favor the Common Core.
Local Control Funding Formula
Three years ago, the Legislature approved Brown’s school financing reform, known as the Local Control Funding Formula, to shift control over budgets and spending decisions to districts and to provide more money for low-income students, English learners and foster youths.
Only 36 percent of public school parents said they have heard about the new law. However, half said they were provided with information about how to become involved with a key element of the new system: the creation of the Local Control and Accountability Plan for setting a district’s spending priorities. Only 4 percent of parents said they became very involved, and 14 percent said they were somewhat involved with the LCAP.
After being read a brief description of the funding formula, large majorities of Californians (65 percent) and parents (73 percent) said they are at least somewhat confident that the additional money will be spent on low-income children and English learners, and three-quarters of those surveyed said they expect achievement would improve for those students as a result.