SAN FRANCISCO, April 11, 2018—An overwhelming majority of Californians are concerned about the threat of a mass shooting in their local schools in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, killings. But a majority also oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey on education released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
When asked about school shootings, 73 percent of California adults and 82 percent of public school parents say they are very or somewhat concerned. Democrats (55%) are much more likely than independents (36%) and far more likely than Republicans (24%) to say they are very concerned. The survey, which began just after the March for Our Lives protests against gun violence, found that across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (68%) and African Americans (57%) are more likely to be very concerned than Asian Americans (49%) and whites (34%).
Two-thirds of adults (67%) and public school parents (68%) oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools. There are stark partisan differences on this question. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (86%) and a strong majority of independents (69%) are opposed, while a solid majority of Republicans (60%) favor allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns. Californians in our survey (67%) are more likely to oppose arming school officials than are adults nationwide (50%, according to a February 2018 CBS News poll).
“In the wake of the Florida mass shooting tragedy, many California public school parents are concerned about school safety,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Yet most oppose having more teachers carry guns.”
Majorities Concerned about Impact of Immigration Enforcement
Asked about another contentious national issue involving children in schools, 70 percent of Californians are very (43%) or somewhat (27%) concerned that federal immigration enforcement will affect undocumented students in local public schools and their families. Latinos (59%) are the most likely to be very concerned, compared to fewer African Americans (43%), whites (35%), and Asian Americans (34%). Democrats (61%) are more likely than independents (36%) and three times as likely as Republicans (20%) to be very concerned.
For the second year in a row, 65 percent of Californians support the designation of public school districts as “sanctuary safe zones” to protect undocumented students and their families from federal immigration enforcement. Strong majorities of Democrats and solid majorities of independents are in favor, while strong majorities of Republicans are opposed. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (82%) are the most likely to be in favor, followed by African Americans (70%). About half of whites (52%) are in favor.
“Solid majorities of Californians—with deep divisions by party—continue to support having their local school districts declared as sanctuary safe zones for undocumented students,” Baldassare said.
Election 2018: Candidate Views on Public Schools Seen as Important
With the June midterms fast approaching, Democrat Gavin Newsom (26%) remains the top choice among likely voters in the governor’s race, followed by Republican John Cox (15%), Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (13%), Republican Travis Allen (10%), and Democrats John Chiang (7%) and Delaine Eastin (6%). Nearly a quarter of likely voters (22%) remain undecided.
The gubernatorial candidates’ positions on K–12 public education are very important to a majority of likely voters (64%). Democratic (69%) and independent (65%) likely voters are more likely than Republicans (55%) to hold this view.
“Despite a rancorous political climate,” Baldassare said, “majorities across party lines agree that the candidates’ positions on K–12 public schools are very important in deciding whom to support.”
In the nonpartisan primary election for state superintendent of public instruction, an overwhelming majority of likely voters (74%) don’t know whom they’d vote for, while candidates Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck are tied at 13 percent.
Asked whether candidates for statewide office should work with or push back against the Trump administration on K–12 issues, 52 percent of likely voters prefer that candidates push back, while 39 percent prefer that they work with the administration.
Most Likely Voters Support More School Funding
A majority of likely voters (60%) say state funding for public schools is inadequate, and parents are most likely to name lack of funding as the biggest issue facing K–12 schools in their community (24%, compared to 9% teacher quality, 7% safety and bullying).
When asked how California’s school funding compares to other states, 48 percent of likely voters and 47 percent of public school parents say per pupil spending for K–12 education is either average or below average. The National Education Association ranks California 29th of the 50 states.
Voters may get the opportunity to approve additional school funding. A possible 2020 initiative could change how commercial property taxes are assessed. The additional revenue would be divided between K–12 public schools and local governments. How do voters feel about this potential ballot measure on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Proposition 13? Among likely voters, 53 percent say they would vote yes. Democrats (71%) are much more likely than independents (55%) and far more likely than Republicans (39%) to support it.
A majority of likely voters (60%) would also vote yes if their school district put a bond measure on the ballot to pay for construction projects, which would require a 55 percent majority to pass. But fewer than half (48%) would vote for a local parcel tax to fund public schools, which falls short of the required two-thirds vote. When asked about reducing the vote threshold for passage of local parcel taxes for schools to 55 percent, half of likely voters (49%) say yes and 41 percent say no.
“Six in ten likely voters say the state’s K–12 funding is inadequate,” Baldassare said. “Solid majorities favor local school bonds, while fewer support local parcel taxes for schools in this election year.”
Job Approval Ratings for Brown, Legislature
Half of likely voters (50%) approve of the way that Governor Jerry Brown is handling his job. Fewer than half (40%) approve of his handling of the state’s K–12 public education system, while a relatively high percentage (19%) don’t have an opinion on this question. Among public school parents, 55 percent approve of Brown’s handling of K–12 education.
Fewer than half (42%) of likely voters approve of the way that the California Legislature is handling its job, while 49 percent disapprove. Just 34 percent of likely voters approve of the legislature’s handling of K–12 education, while 20 percent don’t know. Approval of the legislature’s handling of K–12 education is higher among public school parents (52%).
Majorities Think LCFF Will Boost Academic Achievement
Although the governor’s proposed budget fully funds the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), more than two-thirds of Californians (70%) say they’ve heard nothing at all about it. LCFF gives additional funding to school districts with more English language learners and lower-income students, and it also gives districts increased flexibility on spending decisions. After being read a description of the policy, 71 percent of Californians favor it. While majorities across parties favor the funding formula, Democrats (81%) and independents (73%) are much more likely than Republicans (55%) to do so.
Most Californians (71%) are at least somewhat optimistic that the implementation of LCFF will lead to improved academic achievement among English language learners and lower-income students. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (86%) and Asian Americans (78%) are more likely than African Americans (68%) and whites (60%) to expect improvement. Notably, 41 percent of Latinos expect academic achievement among these students to improve a lot. Across parties, strong majorities of Democrats (75%) and independents (68%) expect improvement, while Republicans are more skeptical (50% think achievement will improve).
The LCFF requires school districts to develop, adopt, and annually update three-year Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) and to reach out to parents and the community for input. A majority of public school parents (54%) say they have received information on how to get involved. How likely are they to participate? Latino parents (80%) are more likely than white parents (68%) to say they are at least somewhat likely to do so.
Local Schools Get Positive Reviews from Parents
Most public school parents (61%) give their local schools grades of A or B when asked to rate their quality. A third of public school parents are aware that state test scores are lower than scores in most other states. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that California test scores in grades 4 and 8 in English and math rank below average or near the bottom nationally.
To help parents learn about the quality of their local K–12 public schools, the state launched the California School Dashboard in December. The dashboard is an online tool that evaluates school performance using multiple measures. Although an overwhelming majority of public school parents (83%) say they can easily find information about the quality of their child’s school, most (56%) have heard nothing at all about the new dashboard.
When it comes to the types of schools they prefer, a majority of public school parents say it is extremely or very important that their local school have a mix of students from different racial/ethnic (63%) and economic (50%) backgrounds. Given a hypothetical choice among public, private, religious, or charter schools for their children—if cost and location were not an issue—a third of parents chose a traditional public school (35%). A similar proportion chose a private school (31%), while fewer picked a religious school (18%) or charter school (13%). Most parents also want their children to graduate from college. A third (35%) hope their children earn a four-year college degree and nearly half (48%) hope they obtain a graduate degree.
About the Survey
This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Silver Giving Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,704 California adult residents, including 1,193 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from March 25–April 3, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.
The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.2 percent for all adults. For the 1,330 registered voters, the sampling error is ±3.6 percent; for the 867 likely voters, it is ±4.4 percent; for the 523 parents, it is ±5.5 percent; for the 391 public school parents, it is ±6.2 percent. For more information on methodology, see page 22.
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.