Not surprisingly, most Californians have become quite skeptical about the public education system and spending on it. A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows education falling to its lowest level of ranking as the state’s most important issue in three years. Most feel the system has not improved, despite constant infusions of public funds and the voters’ regular response to exhortations to do more in election after election.
Only 9% view education as the top issue in California, the lowest level since August 2004. But voters aren’t happy about education. One could say a certain ennui has set in, a sense of resignation, perhaps cynicism.
While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a 62% job approval rating among likely voters, he rates only 34% approval on education. The Legislature is much worse, just 21% on education. Schwarzenegger says next year will be the Year of Education.
But this year, California voters are unhappy about education. And they aren’t necessarily buying the message set out by a big foundation study last month that called for massive new spending on education.
California has passed education bonds on most every ballot over the past decade, amounting to some $45 billion in education-related bonds. With the new spending, most voters think that California ranks at or above the national average in per pupil spending. In fact, it ranks 29th out of 50 states.
But even with the reality, not to mention the perception, which slightly outruns the reality, of new spending on education, most California voters do not think that educational performance is improving, believing instead that California ranks below average or near the bottom in performance compared to kids in other states.
Most want local control on education, in contrast to the reality of a system dominated by state government and a powerful education lobby.
In a further problem for the education lobby, the number of Californians who say their schools lack adequate funding has gone down sharply since 2000. Then 63% agreed with that notion. Today it is down to 48%.
And most tax increases to provide more school funding are rejected on principle, including sales tax and property tax increases. However, most say they could support an income tax hike on the wealthy. And two-thirds say they could support a bond measure for local school construction. But that is down from nearly 80% seven years ago.
Says PPIC chief Mark Baldassare: “State leaders have three steep challenges to overcome if they hope to rally support for additional education funding and reform: First, majorities of state residents are critical of the way the governor and state legislature are handling the issue. Second, residents clearly lack confidence in the state to allocate resources to schools. And third, residents are reluctant to increase spending on education without fiscal accountability.”
37% say that educational performance can be bettered simply by making more efficient use of existing funds. Only 11% think the answer is increased funding. Just under half think the answer is a blend of spending more efficiently and increasing funding.