Statewide survey: most Californians support teacher strikes for higher pay

April 27, 2019

Oakland teacher Laura Jetter carries a sign during a strike rally.

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Six out of 10 Californians say teachers’ salaries in their communities are too low and they support teachers striking for higher pay, according to a new statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Even higher support for teacher strikes came from the San Francisco Bay Area where 70 percent said they backed strikes and Los Angeles where 65 percent approved.

Teachers from Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified went on strike in January and February, respectively, demanding higher pay and improved classroom conditions. Both strikes resulted in higher salaries for teachers as well as other concessions.

Teachers won support across the state with majorities saying their pay was too low: more than half of adults in the Inland Empire (58%), Central Valley (53%) and Orange/San Diego (53%).

“There were solid majorities saying teacher pay is too low and supporting teacher strikes,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “For us it has a lot of meaning attached to it because in our survey last month we found a record number of Californians saying housing prices were a problem in their region and that they were seriously considering moving. It fit in with what we are seeing statewide and there is definitely a consequence to the high cost of housing in California.” The San Francisco-based non-profit carries out independent, non-partisan research on public policy issues.

A recent EdSource analysis of teacher salaries and rents showed that in nearly 40 percent of the 680 California school districts that reported salary data to the state, first-year teachers did not earn enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment. In more than a quarter of the school districts the highest-paid teachers could not afford to rent a three-bedroom house or apartment.

The gap between teacher pay and housing costs is the widest in the Bay Area, where teachers paid an average salary in nearly 90 percent of the school districts did not earn enough to rent an affordable two-bedroom apartment.

For districts already grappling with teacher shortages, high housing costs are one more obstacle to hiring. Although a recent report to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing shows that there has been an uptick in enrollment in teacher preparation programs, there are currently not enough credentialed teachers for every classroom.

In 2016-2017, according to the report, 23,832 prospective teachers were enrolled in teacher preparation programs, nearly 2,500 more than the previous year. In 2017-18 about 16,000 people received new teaching credentials. But the state needed 24,000 credentialed teachers to fill every classroom that year, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

For some teachers the only option has been to move out of state in search of less expensive housing, worsening the state’s teacher shortage. Between 2013 and 2017, the Census Bureau estimates that 40,000 teachers left the state, although it is not clear that they left because of housing costs. That was an increase of 22 percent over the previous five-year period.

The Public Policy Institute of California survey found that nearly half the adults surveyed and 57 percent of the public school parents surveyed believe the state’s teacher shortage is a problem.

Regarding charter schools, about half the people who were surveyed were in support of charter schools and about half were in opposition. It showed that people are concerned about the possibility of traditional public schools being financially impacted by charter schools, but they also want parents in low-income communities to have choices, Baldassare said.

“The fact that people are conflicted about the subject, I think is important,” Baldassare said. “It’s certainly not settled opinion.”

The non-profit research organization conducted its annual Californians and Education Survey of 1,512 adult residents in early April. This sample, which asked respondents to identify themselves as parents, closely represents what Californians would say if all were sampled, according to the report. It is the first-time the organization has used a fully online survey.

Survey takers said the most important issues facing California’s K-12 schools, in order of importance, are lack of funding, followed by large class sizes, concerns about the quality of education, limited curriculum and low teacher pay.

One of the biggest takeaways from the survey, according to Baldassare, is that Californians want Governor Gavin Newsom to put a high priority on K-12 education and its funding. Seven out of 10 Californians surveyed across all regions, ages, education, income and ethnic groups say Gov. Newsom should make K-12 education a “very high priority.” Most want him to move away from the K-12 policies of his predecessor Jerry Brown. The survey did not describe those Brown policies.

The good news for Gov. Newsom is that 53 percent of those surveyed approve of the way he is handing K-12 public education. Forty-seven percent of respondents approve of the way the state legislature is handing public education.

This is the first time the Public Policy Institute has asked California residents about teacher pay specifically, Baldassare said. He said he was prompted to ask the question because it was being asked in national surveys.

It also is the first time the organization asked residents their opinions about charter schools in detail, he said.

The survey also found:

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