Though far from a majority, an increasing number of Californians say that the state’s public schools have gotten better over the past few years, according to a poll released on Thursday.
But it’s not because they are impressed with the sweeping changes in managing and financing K-12 schools. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had never heard anything about the Local Control Funding Formula, the new funding and governance law that the Legislature passed two years ago.
These are among the findings in the latest annual joint poll of 2,411 registered voters, including 688 parents of K-12 students, conducted this month on behalf of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE. Participants were chosen to reflect the state’s demographics, and interviews were conducted in Spanish or English. (Go here for more details on the methodology.)
The poll also found widespread support for renewing Proposition 30, the temporary quarter-cent increase in the sales tax and increases in income taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians, which has brought in an average of $6 billion yearly for K-12 schools and community colleges. And it found that more Californians approved of Gov. Jerry Brown’s handling of education (45 percent) than disapproved (38 percent), a slightly higher margin than in 2012, the first year of the survey.
Local Control Funding Formula
The 65 percent of all respondents (56 percent of K-12 parents) who said they had never heard or read about the new funding law in the previous six months was significantly higher than a year ago, when 45 percent of the total said they hadn’t heard or read about it.
David Plank, PACE’s executive director, speculated that the new law was more in the news last year, the first year of its rollout.
The shift to local control – a key reform under the funding formula – assumes that the public will become engaged in the process of setting priorities over spending. But just 9 percent of K-12 parents and only 4 percent of respondents overall said they had been invited to or made aware of a meeting regarding the Local Control Funding Formula.
“To have such low levels of awareness and participation after two years of LCFF implementation is alarming,” said Julie Marsh, USC associate professor and PACE co-director.
Plank said, “The great promise of (the funding law) is it would change the conversation to innovate and experiment at the local level. We created a space to engage a much broader community, but unless there are new actors, then we will continue to have the same conversations over again.”
Of voters familiar with the Local Control Funding Formula, 54 percent had a positive view of it, and 22 percent viewed it negatively. Among parents, the view was 54 percent positive and 14 percent negative, with the rest saying they weren’t sure or didn’t know. And when read a summary of the intent of the law, 80 percent of all respondents agreed that it was important to involve the community in making decisions.
The survey did not specifically ask voters whether they were involved with the Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, in which districts set spending priorities and academic and education goals. It’s possible that some of those surveyed were familiar with the new funding law under a different name, Plank acknowledged.
Perceptions of schools
According to the survey, 17 percent of voters said that schools have gotten better, which was 10 percentage points higher than in 2012. The number who said schools had gotten worse fell significantly, from 57 percent in 2012 to 39 percent this year. The rest said they remained the same or had no opinion (9 percent).
Plank speculated that the latest numbers reflect a decline in bad news. In the years following the most recent recession, headlines were all about massive cuts in funding and staff layoffs. Now, finances have stabilized, he said, “and some people are beginning to sense that things also genuinely are getting better.”
Asked to grade California schools:
- 18 percent of voters gave schools an A or B, compared with 15 percent in 2012, when schools were still experiencing cuts;
- 43 percent gave schools a C, compared with 36 percent in 2012;
- 32 percent gave schools a D or F, compared with 42 percent in 2012;
- 7 percent had no opinion, the same percentage as in 2012.
Respondents gave their own schools higher grades, which is consistent with other surveys:
- 34 percent gave an A or B, compared with 31 percent in 2012;
- 33 percent gave a C, compared with 37 percent in 2012;
- 21 percent gave a D or F, the same percentage as in 2012;
- 12 had no opinion, compared with 11 percent in 2012.
Even though many schools have recovered from cuts following the recession, with an average 30 percent increase in spending over the past three years, few respondents said they’ve seen money coming to schools.
- A third of the total (30 percent of K-12 parents) said schools have had at least a little more money in the classroom;
- 26 percent of all respondents said it’s about the same;
- 26 percent of all respondents (32 percent of K-12 voters) said there was less money;
- 16 percent were unsure.
A majority of all respondents (60 percent) and K-12 parents specifically (74 percent) said that schools remain underfunded, and the state should be paying more. By party affiliation, 73 percent of Democrats said there should be more money for schools, compared with 47 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of independent voters.
With the sales tax increase under Prop. 30 set to expire in 2016 and the income tax increase to end in 2018, 63 percent of all respondents and two-thirds of K-12 parents favored extending it in some form – a position opposed at this point by Gov. Brown.
- 29 percent of all respondents and 28 percent of K-12 parents supported extending both taxes;
- 26 percent of all respondents supported extending
the income tax increase but not the sales tax;
- 8 percent of all respondents and 12 percent of K-12 parents supported extending the sales tax but not the income tax;
- 28 percent of all respondents and 22 percent of K-12 parents said both taxes should end;
- 9 percent of all respondents and 12 percent of K-12 parents were unsure.
Among Democrats, 78 percent favored some form of an extension, while only 42 percent of Republicans did; Independents fell in between, at 63 percent.
Support for renewing Prop. 30 was stronger than it was in two previous polls by the Public Policy Institute of California. Its survey of likely voters in January 2015 and December 2014 found 52 percent favored an extension and 43 percent opposed.
MFour Research and Tulchin Research conducted the poll. The margin of error was 2.9 percent.
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