David Plank

David Plank

California voters understand that their schools are in trouble. Forty-two percent of voters give the state’s schools a grade of D or F, while fewer than 15 percent give them an A or B. Fifty-seven percent of voters believe that California schools have gotten worse in the past few years, and only 7 percent believe that they have gotten better.

Voters also recognize that their schools are not adequately funded. More than 40 percent rate the state’s efforts to provide “adequate funding for local schools, students and classrooms” at 3 or below on a 10-point scale, with 47 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of “decline to state” voters sharing this view. Only 19 percent of voters (16 percent of Republicans, 15 percent of DTS) give the state a score of 7 or higher. Democrats, surprisingly, are somewhat more cheerful about school funding, with 27 percent giving the state a rating of 7 or higher and only 32 percent a rating of 3 or lower.

These findings come from a poll in August sponsored by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Taken together they might lead one to predict smooth sailing for the two initiatives on the November ballot that aim to increase funding for California’s schools, but in fact the seas are rough and storm clouds are gathering. Why?

The PACE/Rossier poll helps to explain the political headwinds facing the two initiatives. Our poll was conducted online, which makes it possible to provide respondents with a great deal of information in a variety of formats. We took full advantage of this in our polling on Proposition 30, asking voters about their support for Governor Brown’s initiative in three different ways.

First, as a telephone poll might do, we presented them with the ballot language provided by the Attorney General’s office, including the Ballot Label, Official Title, and Summary of the Proposition. After reading the ballot language, 55 percent of voters expressed support for Proposition 30, while 36 percent expressed opposition.

Next, we presented them with public advertisements supporting and opposing Proposition 30. Exposure to political ads did not shift voters’ opinions much; support for Proposition 30 declined from 54 to 52 percent, but opposition also declined, from 36 to 34 percent.

Finally, we presented voters with two statements of equal length summarizing the value propositions that drive arguments for and against Proposition 30. The first read as follows:

Supporters of Proposition 30 say that after years of deficit spending, Governor Brown has cut billions in spending. We have made progress but we still have serious budget problems. We should take a stand against further budget cuts to schools and public safety, make the wealthy pay their fair share, and help balance the budget.

 The second statement read:

Opponents of Proposition 30 say that Sacramento politicians need to cut wasteful spending before raising our taxes. The State Legislature just voted to spend billions of dollars on a high-speed train to nowhere, raised salaries for their senior staff, and just found millions of dollars in unspent funds.

We asked voters which of these two statements best reflected their views. Thirty-seven percent chose the argument put forward by supporters of Proposition 30, while 47 percent chose the opponents’ argument.

The fundamental danger for those seeking additional funding for schools lies here, in California voters’ deep and persistent skepticism about whether the state can be trusted to use resources well. As a recent PPIC report confirms, voters distrust politicians and believe that a large share of public spending is wasted, in education as in other sectors. Persuading them that more educational spending will lead to better outcomes for students is a huge political challenge.

The challenge is exacerbated this November by the increasingly rancorous debate between supporters of Proposition 30 and supporters of Proposition 38 about which initiative is better for California schools. The supporters of Proposition 38 have designed their proposal and framed their advertising to reinforce rather than confront the public’s doubts about whether the state can be trusted to spend money wisely. Their promise to keep new revenues out of the hands of “Sacramento politicians“ clearly resonates with California voters, but not in a positive way. Instead, by playing to voters’ distaste for politics and public spending their campaign is very likely to sink both initiatives, with consequences for the state’s education system that are fearsome to contemplate.

Californians are plainly concerned about the condition of the state’s schools. They have a reasonably clear idea about what’s needed to move the state’s education system in a better direction, and they recognize that making progress is likely to require more money for schools. For now, though, they lack confidence that educational improvement is an achievable goal. It seems increasingly likely that they will prove themselves right on November 6.

David N. Plank is executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Before joining PACE in January 2007, he was a professor at Michigan State University, where he founded and directed the Education Policy Center. He was previously on the faculties at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas at Dallas, where he taught courses and conducted research in the areas of educational finance and policy. He has published widely in a number of different fields; his current interests include the role of the state in education and the relationship between academic research and public policy.

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  1. mcdez 6 years ago6 years ago

    Prop 30 money gets swept into the general fund. Schools get 40% of general fund money. If the general fund increases, then money to schools increases. BUT that doesn't mean that schools will get what they should be get. Categories of money from the general fund can be permanently removed and designated as something other than general fund money, thus lowering the total, thus lowering what schools get. The governor can do this on a … Read More

    Prop 30 money gets swept into the general fund. Schools get 40% of general fund money. If the general fund increases, then money to schools increases. BUT that doesn’t mean that schools will get what they should be get. Categories of money from the general fund can be permanently removed and designated as something other than general fund money, thus lowering the total, thus lowering what schools get. The governor can do this on a whim and has done it in the past. Also, the governor can borrow money from schools as long as he says he’ll pay it back. This has already happened to the tune of $10 billion dollars. You can’t fault anyone for being skeptical about where the money goes.

    Prop 38 money is walled off. It does not go into the general fund. It goes into a separate education trust fund. It is money that is over and above whatever that 40% of the general fund turns out to be for any given year. This is the BIG difference between Prop 30 and Prop 38. Let’s be clear. Prop 38 is the ONLY initiative that can GUARANTEE additional funding for our schools. CA is 47th in the nation in per pupil spending. This is disgraceful. Prop 38 will help change that horrific status.

  2. aidan 6 years ago6 years ago

    How convenient to dismiss uneasiness over high speed rail as the work of the far right. As a long time progressive Democrat, I'm voting NO on prop 30. In fact, my entire family - all Dems - are voting NO. Jerry Brown has some nerve spending billions on high speed rail, then turning right around and holding our schools hostage with prop 30. Furthermore, the budget is PREDICATED on prop 30. Brown … Read More

    How convenient to dismiss uneasiness over high speed rail as the work of the far right. As a long time progressive Democrat, I’m voting NO on prop 30. In fact, my entire family – all Dems – are voting NO.

    Jerry Brown has some nerve spending billions on high speed rail, then turning right around and holding our schools hostage with prop 30. Furthermore, the budget is PREDICATED on prop 30. Brown is running the world’s ninth largest economy on hatching chickens.

    Prop 30 targets a sliver of earned income taxpayers and their tax bill is already sky high. And, relative to Sweden, Denmark etc. taxpayers get very little in return. You can’t balance a state budget on the backs of these people. It’s unsustainable and prop 30 is the tipping point.

    Furthermore, I’ve seen first hand the unbelievable WASTE of taxpayer money at the local level. I watched my Democratic reps fritter away ARRA funds on trivial projects while critical improvements went unfunded. Same with the State of CA and flood improvement bond measures.

    side note – we no longer have children in school but we are still voting yes on prop 38.

  3. el 6 years ago6 years ago

    This whole meme of “no money for education until the ‘train to nowhere'” is halted seems to be the astroturf work of a couple of right-wing SuperPACs who are specifically interested in blocking high speed rail.

    Might as well say we won’t pass Prop 30 until we stop all the work by Caltrans fixing potholes and doing road work.

  4. navigio 6 years ago6 years ago

    So, everything you said made sense up until this sentence: "For now, though, they lack confidence that educational improvement is an achievable goal." I dont understand that comment. Especially as some kind of conclusion based on what you say in the article (which does not seem to address that topic at all). Can you clarify? I would also disagree that prop 38 making the point that money bypasses Sacramento somehow reinforces a negative connotation of how the … Read More

    So, everything you said made sense up until this sentence: “For now, though, they lack confidence that educational improvement is an achievable goal.”

    I dont understand that comment. Especially as some kind of conclusion based on what you say in the article (which does not seem to address that topic at all). Can you clarify?

    I would also disagree that prop 38 making the point that money bypasses Sacramento somehow reinforces a negative connotation of how the state uses funds. I might agree if, but only if people actually knew that. Most voters dont know that. Even the ballot language doesnt necessarily make that clear.

    Finally, the two statements you used to describe prop 30 both seems pretty negatively worded. Its not surprising that you got the response you got, imho.