Credit: LA School Report
Gov. Jerry Brown campaigns for passage of the Local Control Funding Formula during an appearance in Los Angeles.

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.”

Fewer respondents to the poll reported hearing anything about the new funding formula this year. compared with a year ago.

USC Rossier School of Education/PACE

Fewer respondents to the poll reported hearing anything about the new funding formula this year, compared with a year ago.

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.

School funding

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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  1. el 1 year ago1 year ago

    I'm not thinking that the question matches the headline. The question is, "In the past six months,.."., not a simple matter of asking if the person knows about or has ever heard about LCFF. If you don't read the education press and you didn't go to an LCFF meeting this spring, it's extremely likely you didn't read anything about it in the past six months. That alone could account for the decline reported. Read More

    I’m not thinking that the question matches the headline. The question is, “In the past six months,..”., not a simple matter of asking if the person knows about or has ever heard about LCFF. If you don’t read the education press and you didn’t go to an LCFF meeting this spring, it’s extremely likely you didn’t read anything about it in the past six months. That alone could account for the decline reported.

  2. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 1 year ago1 year ago

    If there is no will or sense of mission at the school district level -- masked by public relations subterfuge and lip-service -- to broaden community participation and education in public school spending decisions, you end up with poll numbers like these. Some people genuinely imagined the LCFF was the longed-for shift from Sacramento control back to presumably better local decision-making. It sounds good, but in many districts the LCFF money went to double-digit raises … Read More

    If there is no will or sense of mission at the school district level — masked by public relations subterfuge and lip-service — to broaden community participation and education in public school spending decisions, you end up with poll numbers like these.

    Some people genuinely imagined the LCFF was the longed-for shift from Sacramento control back to presumably better local decision-making. It sounds good, but in many districts the LCFF money went to double-digit raises for teachers — end of story.

    In San Diego the teachers’ raise was held to 5% over two years, but the District has a lackluster record of developing serious Local Control Accountability Plans or, in fact, of listening to the community at all.

    In June San Diego Superintendent Cindy Marten, elevated from her former job as an elementary school principal, got three of five Board members to approve an unprecedented August school-start time for 2016. This, in spite of a District-run poll that showed 65% of surveyed parents opposed August and prefer a post-Labor Day opening of school.

    It is a weak argument to say San Diego Unified must conform with other smaller San Diego County school districts when San Diego Unified has 130,000 students and the City of San Diego has a population of 1,307,402. Calling for public input on an important issue for families and then ignoring it is another version of having pro-forma LCAPs.

  3. Colette Rudd 1 year ago1 year ago

    Just publicity is not likely to result in most people actually understanding the policy or participating in the decision-making as the law intended. More in-depth training is essential for members of the community to understand the intent of the Local Control Funding Formula and feel like they can be productive partners in developing plans for their local schools.

  4. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    I’ve heard of the Local Control Funding Formula. Oh, yea! It’s a scheme to get state officials and elected representatives out from under the California public school train wreck while receiving even more compensation for even having less responsibility and less accountability.

  5. Eric Dill 1 year ago1 year ago

    And after 30 years of the previous method of funding schools in place, how many voters were aware of the Revenue Limit and how it worked?

    Replies

    • Manuel 1 year ago1 year ago

      Wow, I never thought about that!

      Yes, it was an interesting trip down the rabbit hole when I tried to find out about how Revenue Limits worked but back then we did not have so many people involved with the “schools suck/don’t suck” “industry.”

      They need to run their polls and appear to be busy informing us of what the unwashed masses want.

      It’s the world we live on. 🙂