As the end of the school year approaches, the lifting of mask mandates has restored a sense of normalcy for many students, teachers, and parents, but lingering challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic remain. Last week, PPIC survey analyst Rachel Lawler and associate survey director Dean Bonner discussed findings from our April survey, which examines Californians’ views on public education, school funding, and more.
Though most Californians approve of how Governor Newsom is handling the K–12 public education system, 42% say that the quality of California public schools has gotten worse in recent years. Many were frustrated with schools during the pandemic, but “a lot of Californians perceive [Newsom] as having done a good job, or the best job he could, given the circumstances of COVID,” said Lawler.
More than four in ten parents say their children have fallen behind in school—and they are divided on whether the biggest challenge will be catching up academically or dealing with the pandemic’s social-emotional impacts. Lower-income parents were much more likely to say catching up academically will be the biggest challenge—a view that aligns with “the real-life data we have regarding the inequitable impact of the pandemic on student learning,” said Bonner.
Despite these concerns, there has been “an easing of tensions with public schools” and a bounce back in perceptions after schools reopened, said Lawler. Last April, in the midst of distance and hybrid learning, a plurality of parents said they would choose a private school for their child, if cost and location were not an issue. This year, traditional public schools were once again the top choice.
The lifting of the state’s school mask mandate in March may have contributed to this uptick in positive views. Solid majorities support the state’s decision, with fewer than four in ten opposing. In a rare example of partisan agreement, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents support the decision to no longer require masks in schools.
Californians expressed support for several different areas of K–12 spending. As the state works to implement the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care and expand its Transitional Kindergarten program, overwhelming majorities support state funding for voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds. Half of Californians favor increasing minimum starting salaries to address teacher shortages, and a similar share say the current level of resources for lower-income students is not enough. California’s large budget surplus suggests the possibility of new investments, as schools work to recover from the pandemic and contend with long-term challenges, like declining enrollments.