Which area of government gets the most money in the California General Fund budget? Not a trick question. I’d guess that nearly all of my readers know that the answer is K-12 education. But… most Californians cannot answer that question correctly.

Nearly 42% of Gov. Brown’s proposed budget is dedicated to K-12 education, by far the largest share of the state budget. However, in the Public Policy Institute of California poll released last week only 15% of adults and 17% of likely voters could identify the largest piece of state spending.

This lack of knowledge is important when voters make ballot decisions on tax and spend issues.

PPIC has found this misinformation consistent over the past decade. Asked yearly, the results are almost identical: only 16% of adults chose K-12 spending as the top budget priority in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The percentage nudged up one point in 2014, but then fell to 15% last year and this year.

Republicans are more aware that K-12 takes the bigger piece of the budget pie (19%) than either Independents (17%) or Democrats (11%). No need to remind that Democratic voters are in the majority.

Once again in this PPIC survey, most adults said that prisons and corrections are the big winners when it comes to budget priorities.

This is a big problem. As PPIC president and chief of the survey Mark Baldassare commented in 2010 reflecting on poll results that showed the same misunderstanding of budget priorities, “If Californians are going to rely on the ballot box for making critical choices about the budget process, the state’s leaders need to do a better job educating the decision makers about where the money comes from and where it goes.”

No such education has taken place.

Whether more K-12 education funding is necessary is worthy of debate. However, those who want more money for schools could turn the voters’ perceptions to their advantage.

School advocates that want more money have an easier time making their case if voters are not aware of how money is spent. Recently, the California School Boards Association released a report claiming schools need a whopping $42 billion more. That’s a big number, which would require massive tax increases to achieve. Arguing for even a portion of that money is made easier if the voters thinks schools are neglected in the budget.

I suppose there is also frustration for Gov. Brown in all this. He crowed that he has lifted school spending 50% since he began his second turn in the governor’s office. Whatever credit he receives from the public is certainly diminished if most members of the public think he funds education only after taking care of prisons and health and human services.

The voters knowledge of the state budget – or lack thereof — will come into play when, likely, the Proposition 30 tax extension is on the November ballot. Advocates for school spending might find a more willing electorate to agree to their arguments if they think that education is shorted in the budget year in and year out.

Since Californians think that K-12 education should be the top priority (49% in the poll) and at the same time few know that education is the top priority (15%), support for a Prop 30 extension will likely be greater than if the voters had the budget facts.

We’ll find out in November.