As optimism about the state of California’s public schools continues to rise, a strong majority of California voters would back the reauthorization of Proposition 30 to channel additional money to public campuses, according to a new poll.
The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll shows 63 percent of voters are in favor of extending at least one provision of Prop. 30 — the tax increase on high incomes or the sales tax hike or both — that is set to expire at the end of 2016. Only 28 percent of voters said both fiscal provisions should be allowed to expire, the poll showed.
Approved by the voters in 2012, Prop. 30 temporarily increased the state sales tax by a quarter cent and the personal income tax rate on people earning more than $250,000 a year to fund public education and other government programs.
Six in 10 voters said California should be spending more on schools, as opposed to 26 percent who said the state’s public schools have enough money, the poll showed.
“Since the inception of this poll in 2012, we have identified valuable trends that not only reflect the opinions of the state’s voters but also influence policymakers in Sacramento,” said USC Rossier School Dean Karen Symms Gallagher. “The latest results indicate a growing confidence in our public school system as voters are clearly willing to provide greater financial support to education.”
Less enthusiasm for Prop. 13
Voters were comparatively less enthusiastic about proposed changes to Proposition 13, which sets limits on property taxes. Changing the rules on the taxation of business and commercial property would raise an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion per year, of which 40 percent would go to public schools. A slight majority of voters — 51 percent — said they would support changes to Prop. 13, as compared to 39 percent who would oppose it.
“Although voters want more invested in education, we don’t see an underlying appetite for more extreme measures, such as making changes to Prop. 13,” said Jeff Harrelson, chief operating officer of the Republican polling firm MFour Mobile Research, part of the bipartisan team with the Democratic polling firm Tulchin Research that conducted the PACE/USC Rossier Poll. “Policymakers should be prepared to engage in an extended voter education effort on this issue.”
Said Ben Tulchin, president of Tulchin Research: “Voters believe California’s public schools have made some progress over the last few years. As a result, a large majority of California voters wants to extend Proposition 30, particularly its tax on the wealthy, in order to continue this progress.”
California voters have become less pessimistic about the state of their public schools. Between 2012, when the question was first asked, and 2015, the percentage of voters who say the state’s public schools have gotten better more than doubled, from 7 percent to 17 percent. During that same time period, the percentage of voters who said public schools were getting worse declined, from 57 percent to 39 percent. Thirty-six percent of voters said public schools had stayed the same.
When asked about their neighborhood public schools, 17 percent of California voters said they had gotten better, up from 11 percent in 2012. Thirty-four percent of voters said their local public schools had gotten worse, down from 45 percent in 2012. Thirty-eight percent of voters said local public schools had stayed the same.
“Voters are clearly not satisfied with the state of California’s public education system, but they are beginning to see their schools moving in the right direction,” said David Plank, executive director of PACE. “They still see a lot of room for improvement, but this is a very encouraging trend.”
What is the Local Control Funding Formula?
Sixty-five percent of California voters said they have never heard or read about the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2013 reform under which billions of dollars have been funneled to school districts to directly help English learners, foster children and students from low-income families, and an additional 21 percent said they had not heard or read much about it, the poll showed. Only 14 percent of voters said they had heard or read a little or a great deal about the LCFF.
When given basic information about the new funding formula, 57 percent said they approved of the policy, while 22 percent said they opposed it.
The new LCFF policy requires school districts to work with their local communities to develop accountability plans and decide on the allocation of funds, but just 4 percent of voters said they had been invited to or made aware of a meeting regarding LCFF. Eighty-seven percent of California voters said they were not invited or made aware of meetings related to deciding how schools should spend funds, the poll showed.
Among parents, 76 percent said they had not been invited to or made aware of a planning meeting, while 9 percent said they had.
“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. “California’s new accountability system under LCFF depends on broad public engagement and an expectation that the usual suspects are not driving decisions. The overwhelming majority of voters endorses public participation, but we’ll have to do a lot more to bring them into the process.”
Those California voters who had heard “a good deal or a little” about LCFF were more likely than those who were unaware of the new funding policy to be engaged already with their schools in other ways. Voters who were aware of LCFF were nearly twice as likely to vote in school board elections (38 percent) as those who were unaware (20 percent) and more than four times as likely to be members of a PTA (29 percent versus 7 percent).
Nearly 8 in 10 voters (79 percent) said they thought it was important for parents and community members to be involved in the LCFF process, as opposed to 10 percent who thought it was unimportant, according to the poll.
While the LCFF intends to broaden the measures by which schools are held accountable to include more than performance on state tests, voters appear to still greatly value student achievement measures above all others.
When asked about the eight state priorities for which schools are accountable under the new LCFF policy, voters were most likely to rank student achievement as the most important (29 percent); followed by provision of basic services as measured by, for example, the condition of school facilities (16 percent); and student engagement using measures such as school attendance (14 percent). School climate, implementation of Common Core State Standards and course access were the least likely to be ranked by voters as most important.
Approval ratings on education rise
A plurality of voters said they approved of the job Gov. Brown is doing on education, with 45 percent who approve as compared to 38 percent who disapprove — the highest approval rating since the PACE/USC Rossier Poll first asked this question in 2013.
Forty-six percent of voters said they approve of the job President Barack Obama was doing on U.S. education issues, as compared to 41 percent who disapprove.
The poll also showed that Californians continue to give the state’s public schools average grades, although fewer voters believe schools are failing.
The largest percentage of Californians (43 percent) gave their state’s schools a grade of “C”. And 32 percent of voters graded them a “D” or “F,” down from 42 percent in 2012.
Twenty-one percent of voters gave their local public schools a “D” or “F” grade, down from 32 percent in 2012.
When asked to rank the state’s public schools on specific measures of performance, on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best), Californians gave the best mean score — 5.24 — to “teaching the basics of reading, writing and math.” The next highest marks came for “preparing students for a four-year university” (4.9) and “providing parents with a choice of public schools to send their child” (4.74). The lowest was “not spending too much on bureaucracy” (3.98).
The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll was conducted Aug. 3-22 by polling firms MFour Mobile Research and Tulchin Research and surveyed 2,411 registered California voters. The poll was conducted online and allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the overall sample was +/- 2.9 percentage points.
The poll is the fifth in a series from Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and USC Rossier.