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Video: Californians and Education

Stephanie Barton April 28, 2020
photo - Student at Desk Studying at Home

In the era of COVID-19, about eight in ten adults fear getting sick, and 80% expect bad economic times ahead. At a virtual briefing on Thursday, PPIC researcher Alyssa Dykman said the drop in consumer confidence “is unprecedented in the history of the PPIC survey.”

The event featured Dykman, who presented attitudes on K–12 education, funding, and policy preferences along with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic in the latest PPIC statewide survey. PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare supplied deeper context for key findings and responded to online questions.

Approval ratings have hit rare numbers: at 78%, approval has surged for Governor Newsom’s handling of K-12 education, and at 92%, public school parents express overwhelming support for school district handling of school closures. COVID-19, however, has shaken support for school bonds, with about half or fewer adults and likely voters saying it’s a good idea now for state government to fund school construction projects.

Baldassare underscored Californians’ concerns around health and finances, stating that two-thirds of adults are worried about both. Many say their lives are disrupted and about half say the stress is affecting mental health.

What do these concerns mean for California schools? “People are giving state leadership and local leadership a lot of leeway in how they respond to the public health and economic crisis,” Baldassare said. But the state will see its first test of this extraordinary support in May, when the governor submits a revised budget that will reflect revenue loss from a sharp economic downturn.

That may also lead to roadblocks for state and local school funding in November. In the March primary, “the defeat of most of the local school bond measures really caught a lot of people by surprise,” Baldassare said. “It was difficult to pass school funding measures.” At the moment Californians are hesitant to commit more funding to schools, which may impact voting on the split-roll property bond measure and others in the November election.

The survey offers several takeaways around planning for California public education. “We’ve never had anything like the school closures that are taking place,” Baldassare said. He reflected that Californians may reconsider the value of teachers going forward, including whether “teachers have the resources they need in order to do the job,” and noted that the public may have “a new understanding of the important and difficult role teachers play every day in the lives of public school children.”

Californians also may now recognize the struggles of vulnerable students, especially in terms of online access.

“It is going to be a test of Californians’ political will,” Baldassare said, “the degree to which we are committed to improving student outcomes, particularly among the large numbers of English language learners and low income students across the state.”

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