Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · April 24, 2019

Californians Are Divided on Charter Schools


SAN FRANCISCO, April 24, 2019—Californians have a split opinion on charter schools, with roughly equal shares supporting and opposing them. And while most believe that parents in low-income areas should have the option of sending their children to charter schools, there is a high level of concern that charter schools take state funding away from traditional public schools. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Californians hold mixed views on charter schools, with 49 percent of adults in favor and 46 percent opposed. Support is somewhat higher among public school parents, with 59 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (51%) and whites (50%) are more likely than Asian Americans (43%) and African Americans (36%) to favor charter schools in general.

Overwhelming majorities (75% adults, 81% public school parents) say it is very important or somewhat important for parents in low-income areas to have the option of sending their children to charter schools. However, 64 percent of adults and 75 percent of public school parents say they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about charters diverting state funding away from traditional local public schools. Majorities of adults across all regions express this view, with those in Los Angeles (71%) being the most likely to express concern.

“Charter public schools get mixed reviews,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Many Californians say it is important to have the option of a charter school, but there are concerns about the fiscal impacts on traditional public schools.”

Following last month’s passage of Senate Bill 126, which requires more transparency in charter school operations, nine in ten adults say it is very or somewhat important for charter schools to operate with the same transparency and accountability as traditional public schools.

This survey is the first time PPIC has used a fully online survey methodology. This approach allows the survey to examine more issues and go into greater depth than telephone polling, while maintaining PPIC’s high standards for quality and rigor. PPIC will continue to use telephone polling for the bulk of its survey work for the foreseeable future, given current limits in random probability samples for large online surveys in California and the reliability and proven track record of live telephone interviews. For details, see the methodology section of the survey report or this recent blog post.

Most Want Governor to Make K12 Education a Priority

Three-quarters of Californians (75% adults, 76% likely voters) say Governor Newsom should place a very high priority (34% adults, 36% likely voters) or a high priority (41% adults, 40% likely voters) on the state’s K–12 public education system. At least seven in ten adults across all regions and across age, education, income, and racial/ethnic groups say K–12 should be a high or very high priority. Most Californians (55% adults, 60% likely voters) would like Newsom to change to different K–12 policies, rather than continue those of his predecessor, Jerry Brown. Solid majorities of Republicans (77%) and independents (61%) want a change, compared to less than half of Democrats (46%).

Majorities of Californians support Newsom’s K–12 budget proposals to allocate $3 billion in one-time spending to pay down the California State Teachers’ Retirement System’s (CalSTRS) unfunded liabilities (58% of adults approving) and provide $576 million to expand special education services and programs (70%). However, Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to approve.

“Most Californians say Governor Newsom should place a high priority on K–12 public education, but there are deep partisan divides on whether new policies are needed and which ones,” Baldassare said.

Most Support Governor’s Preschool and Kindergarten Proposals

Asked how important preschool is to academic success, an overwhelming majority of adults say it is either very important (46%) or somewhat important (32%). Solid majorities of adults (63%) and public school parents (81%) think the state should fund voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds.

In his proposed budget, Newsom allocates $125 million to expand full-day, full-year preschool to all eligible low-income four-year-olds and $750 million in one-time funds to increase full-day kindergarten programs. Both proposals are favored by majorities of Californians, with 64 percent supporting the preschool spending plan and 65 percent supporting the kindergarten proposal. As with the K–12 proposals noted above, Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to approve.

“Early childhood education is important to most Californians, and solid majorities support the governor’s spending plans to expand preschool and full-day kindergarten,” Baldassare said.

Solid Majorities Support Teachers’ Strikes for Higher Pay

As teachers in multiple school districts across the state have gone on strike seeking higher pay, 61 percent of adults and 58 percent of public school parents say teachers’ salaries in their community are too low. Solid majorities in the San Francisco Bay Area (70% of adults) and Los Angeles (65%) hold this view, as do more than half of adults in the Inland Empire (58%), Central Valley (53%), and Orange/San Diego (53%). Solid majorities approve of public school teachers striking for higher pay (61% adults, 70% public school parents). At least half of adults in all regions approve, with Los Angeles (70%) and the San Francisco Bay Area (62%) expressing the highest levels of support.

Nearly half of adults (48%) and a majority of public school parents (57%) say a teacher shortage is currently a big problem in California’s K–12 schools. Far fewer Californians (31%) and public school parents (32%) believe that teacher quality is a big problem.

“Majorities say that teachers’ salaries are too low and that they support teachers’ striking for more pay,” Baldassare said. “Californians are more concerned about teacher shortages than quality.”

Most Support “Split Roll” Property Tax, Bond Measure to Fund Schools

A ballot measure eligible for the 2020 ballot would amend Proposition 13 to tax commercial (but not residential) properties at their current market rate, creating a “split roll” property tax system. Asked about a potential ballot measure that would make this change and direct some of the new revenue to K–12 public schools, majorities of adults (56%) and likely voters (54%) approve. In PPIC’s January  survey, which did not mention directing the revenue to any specific purpose, 47 percent of adults and 49 percent of likely voters approved.

Today, most adults (62%) and likely voters (57%) say they would vote yes on a state bond measure to pay for school construction projects. However, when asked about a state ballot measure that would lower the threshold—from two-thirds to 55 percent—for passing local parcel taxes for public schools, less than half of Californians (44% adults, 39% likely voters) approve.

“Majorities of California likely voters favor a state bond and higher taxes on commercial properties to raise school revenues, while lowering the local tax threshold receives less support,” Baldassare said.

Asked to name the biggest issue facing the state’s K–12 public schools, adults (18%) and public school parents (25%) are most likely to say lack of funding, followed by large class sizes (11% adults, 16% public school parents), standards/quality of education (10% adults, 7% public school parents), limited/poor curriculum (9% adults, 9% public school parents), and low teacher pay (5% adults, 1% public school parents). Most (56% adults, 59% likely voters, 63% public school parents) think the level of state funding for local public schools is not enough. Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (67%) are the most likely to say this, followed by Latinos (61%), Asian Americans (54%), and whites (52%).

Parents Value College, Worry about Affordability

Asked to name the most important goal for California’s K–12 public schools, roughly a quarter of all adults say teaching students life skills (26%), and a quarter say preparing students for college (24%). Among public school parents, however, 44 percent say preparing students for college is most important—far more than any other goal.

An overwhelming majority of parents want their youngest child to get a college degree. Nearly one-half of California parents (46%) say they hope their youngest child obtains a graduate degree after college, and another third (33%) hope their youngest child attains at least a four-year college degree. However, a strong majority say they are either very worried (45%) or somewhat worried (34%) about being able to afford a college education for their youngest child.

“Many parents say that the goal of K–12 public education should be college and, while most want their children to go to college, they worry about being able to afford the costs,” Baldassare said.

More Key Findings

  • Californians are concerned about college readiness for students in low-income areas.—page 8
    Many adults (43%) and public school parents (56%) say they are very concerned that students in low-income areas are less likely than other students to be ready for college when they finish high school.
  • Many worry about federal immigration enforcement’s effect on students.—page 12
    Solid majorities of Californians (61% adults, 71% public school parents) are either very concerned or somewhat concerned that increased federal immigration enforcement efforts will affect undocumented students and their families in their local public schools.
  • Possibility of mass shooting at local schools causes widespread concern.—page 12
    More than two-thirds of Californians (70% adults, 80% public school parents) are very concerned or somewhat concerned about the threat of mass shooting in their local schools.
  • Opinions are mixed on local revenue measures to support public schools.—page 16
    A majority of adults (60%) and likely voters (56%) would vote yes on a local bond measure for school construction. However, support for a potential local parcel tax for public schools is below the two-thirds threshold needed to pass (46% adults, 44% likely voters).
  • Most support Common Core and the state’s K12 school funding formula.—page 18
    Majorities of Californians approve of the Common Core State Standards (51% adults, 70% public school parents) and the Local Control Funding Formula (67% adults, 77% public school parents).

About the Survey

The Californians and Education survey is supported with funding from the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation. It is the 15th annual PPIC Statewide Survey on K–12 education since 2005.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,512 California adult residents conducted online using the Ipsos KnowledgePanel. Interviews took place from April 5–15, 2019. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 percent for all adults, ±3.6 percent for the 1,289 registered voters, ±4.0 percent for the 1,035 likely voters, and ±7.8 percent for the 278 public school parents. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.