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Press Release · April 19, 2017

Most Favor Vouchers, Yet Most Give Local Schools Good Grades

Majorities Also Support Designating Their Districts As “Sanctuary Safe Zones”

SAN FRANCISCO, April, 19, 2017—A solid majority of Californians favor providing parents with tax-funded vouchers to send their children to any school they choose. At the same time, most give their local public schools good grades. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey on education released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

On the issue of tax-funded vouchers, 60 percent of adults and slightly more public school parents—66 percent—favor providing them to parents for use at any public, private, or parochial school. Republicans (67%) are more likely than independents (56%) and far more likely than Democrats (46%) to be in favor. While majorities across racial/ethnic groups are in favor, African Americans (73%) and Latinos (69%) are more likely than Asian Americans (56%) or whites (51%) to support vouchers.

Asked about school quality, a majority of adults (54%) give their local schools A (22%) or B (32%) grades (24% C, 11% D, 7% F). Most public school parents also grade their schools positively (33% A, 29% B, 20% C, 9% D, 7% F). African Americans are less likely to give A and B grades to local schools (37%) than are other racial/ethnic groups (62% Latinos, 58% Asian Americans, 51% whites). Regardless of the grades they give their local schools, majorities favor vouchers (65% D or F, 61% C, 57% B, 58% A).

Most adults (64%), likely voters (66%), and public school parents (69%) say the current level of state funding for their local public schools is inadequate. Democrats (77%) and independents (69%) are more likely than Republicans (51%) to say funding is inadequate.

What is the best way to improve the quality of K–12 schools: increase state funding, use existing funds more wisely, or a combination of the two? About half of adults and likely voters (49% each) say a combination is needed. A third of adults (33%) and 39 percent of likely voters prefer wiser use of existing funds, while far fewer prefer increasing state funding alone (14% adults, 9% likely voters).

“Most Californians give passing grades to their local public schools,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But many believe that the state isn’t spending enough money on K–12 education and should also spend what it has more wisely. In this context, many are willing to raise their local taxes and consider a voucher system.”

Asked about options for increasing local school revenues, 68 percent of adults and 58 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes if their local school district had a bond on the ballot to pay for construction projects, which would require 55 percent approval. Majorities of adults (59%) and likely voters (52%) say they would vote yes on a local parcel tax to fund public schools; this level of support falls short of the two-thirds vote necessary for passage. When asked about reducing the vote threshold for passage of local parcel taxes for schools to 55 percent, adults are divided: 46 percent say this is a good idea and 43 percent say it is a bad idea. Half of likely voters (49%) say it is a bad idea (42% good idea).

Majorities Concerned about Impact of Immigration Enforcement

As the federal government steps up immigration enforcement, 46 percent of adults are very concerned about the impact on their school’s undocumented students and families. A quarter (24%) are somewhat concerned (12% not too concerned, 16% not at all concerned). Views of public school parents are similar (51% very concerned, 27% somewhat, 12% not too, 10% not at all). Most Latinos (59%) are very concerned, compared to half of Asian Americans (50%) and fewer African Americans (42%) and whites (36%).

As the legislature considers a bill to make California a “sanctuary state,” Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, has encouraged public school districts to declare themselves safe havens. The survey asks Californians if they favor or oppose their local district designating itself a “sanctuary safe zone” to indicate that it will protect its undocumented students and their families from federal immigration enforcement efforts. Large majorities of adults (65%) and public school parents (74%) are in favor. Californians are deeply divided across parties on this question: 79 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents are in favor, and 70 percent of Republicans are opposed. Majorities across regions are in favor. Across racial/ethnic groups, Asian Americans (81%), Latinos (80%), and African Americans (65%) are much more likely than whites (50%) to be in favor.

When asked if local public schools should require staff to keep information about the immigration status of students and their family members completely confidential, 73 percent of Californians and 81 percent of public school parents are in favor. Support is higher among Democrats (83%) than among independents (69%) and Republicans (51%).

Baldassare summed up: “Many Californians are concerned about the impact of increased federal immigration efforts on undocumented students and families and, in response, most favor designating their public school district as a sanctuary safe zone.”

Resources Seen as Inadequate for Students with Disabilities, Low Incomes

The survey asks about the adequacy of resources to serve low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities:

  • Low-income students. Slightly more than half (52% adults, 54% public school parents) say their local public schools have inadequate resources for these students. African Americans (75%) are more likely than Latinos (58%), Asian Americans (47%), and whites (47%) to express this view.
  • Students with disabilities. Just over half (52% adults, 52% public school parents) say their local schools lack adequate resources for these students, with African Americans (75%) far more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to say so (55% Latinos, 52% whites, 42% Asian Americans).
  • English language learners. Adults are divided: 39 percent say schools have just enough resources and 39 percent say not enough (16% more than enough). Among public school parents, 44 percent say local schools have just enough resources (35% not enough, 14% more than enough).

Most residents (71%) and public school parents (66%) say they have heard nothing about the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which gives districts flexibility in spending state money and provides additional funding to districts that have more English language learners and low-income students. Although awareness of the LCFF is low, majorities (65% adults, 64% public school parents) favor it when they are read a brief description. Asked whether they are confident that districts receiving additional funding will use it to provide additional support for English language learners and lower-income students, 53 percent of adults say they are very confident (11%) or somewhat confident (42%). This is a 12 point decline since last April, when 65 percent expressed confidence that the funds would benefit these students. Confidence is also lower among public school parents: 57 percent are very or somewhat confident, down from 73 percent in April 2016. Nevertheless, 68 percent of adults and 75 percent of public school parents say LCFF implementation will improve the academic achievement of English language learners and lower-income students at least somewhat.

LCFF requires school districts to develop, adopt, and annually update three-year Local Control and Accountability Plans. Districts are required to reach out to parents and encouraged to seek input from parents of lower-income and English language learner students. Fewer than half of public school parents (46%) say they were provided with information about how to get involved in this process. Similar shares of parents with household incomes below and above $40,000 (48% and 45%, respectively) say they were given information. Latino parents (55%) are far more likely than white parents (34%) to say so. When parents are asked whether they are likely to participate in revising and updating their local accountability plans, 25 percent say they are very likely to do so and 47 percent are somewhat likely.

Political Divide over Common Core Standards

Seven years after California joined many other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards, just 24 percent of state residents say they have heard a lot about them (41% adults a little, 34% nothing at all). Public school parents are somewhat more likely to be aware (31% heard a lot, 41% a little, 27% nothing at all). Republicans (41%) are much more likely than Democrats (25%) and independents (23%) to say they have heard a lot about the standards. When read a brief description, 43 percent of adults and 54 percent of public school parents favor Common Core. The partisan divide on this question is sharp: Democrats (48%) and independents (44%) are much more likely than Republicans (23%) to be in favor.

Baldassare said: “Most Californians rally around the state government’s Local Control Funding Formula plan to provide more resources to the neediest students, while they are conflicted and divided along party lines when it comes to the Common Core education standards.”

Job Approval Ratings: Brown, Legislature in a Tie

About half of Californians (49% adults, 52% likely voters) approve of the way Jerry Brown is handling his job as governor. Slightly fewer approve of his handling of the state’s K–12 public education system (41% adults, 37% likely voters), and 30 percent don’t know. The legislature’s approval rating is 49 percent among adults and 44 percent among likely voters. Approval of the legislature’s handling of public education is lower: 42 percent among adults and 35 percent among likely voters.

“The California legislature’s and Governor Brown’s approval ratings are tied at 49 percent, representing a remarkable turnaround from the legislature’s 16 percent approval rating in 2010,” Baldassare said.

More Concerned about Teacher Shortage than Teacher Quality

The survey also asks about three education issues that are the focus of debate:

  • Teachers. Just 25 percent of adults and 23 percent of public school parents say teacher quality is a big problem in the state’s public schools. They are much more likely to see a teacher shortage as a big problem (50% adults, 52% public school parents).
  • Charter schools. Should charter schools meet the same educational standards as other public schools or set their own? Most Californians (61%) and public school parents (65%) say charter schools should meet the same standards. Most Democrats (70%) and independents (60%) agree, while Republicans are divided (47% same standards, 47% set own standards).
  • Preschool. Most adults (69%) and likely voters (66%) say preschool is very important to a student’s success from kindergarten through high school. Majorities across racial/ethnic groups and parties agree. Should state government fund voluntary preschool programs for four-year-olds? Overwhelming majorities (75% adults, 71% likely voters) say yes.

About the Survey

The 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 1,705 California adult residents, including 1,109 interviewed on cell phones and 596 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from April 2–11, 2017. 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, ±3.5 percent for the 1,380 registered voters, and ±4.1 percent for the 1,036 likely voters. It is ±5.5 for the 529 parents and ±6.2 for the 411 public school parents. 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.