Some interesting—and puzzling—findings reflected in the new Public Policy Institute of California survey on the mix of education and politics.

Of course, major attention will focus the governor’s race. The PPIC survey showed little change from the previous PPIC forecast with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom leading the field at 26%, Republican businessman John Cox at 15%, former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 13%, Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen 10%, state Treasurer John Chiang at 7% and Delaine Eastin 6%.

A strength for Cox showed up with Independent voters. They backed Cox at 23%, just two points behind Newsom. The two were the only candidates in double figures with Independents.

Another interesting side note, while Villaraigosa is running up impressive numbers with Latino voters, leading the way with 34% of the vote, many of those voters must live along the coast. Part of the former LA mayor’s strategy is to roll up a big score in the Central Valley relying on Latino voting in that area of the state. Yet, in the survey, Villaraigosa took only 7% of the Central Valley votes finishing behind Cox (18%), Newsom (18%), and even Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen (17%.)

PPIC says that the gubernatorial candidates’ position on K–12 public education is very important to 64% of likely voters. How come the candidate who is focusing her campaign on improving public education, Delaine Eastin, is mired at 6% of the vote in this poll? In fact, Eastin is the only gubernatorial candidate tested who is identified as an educator. Didn’t seem to help. Even among parents of public school children she scores only 3%. She did better (at 6%) with those respondents who have no children in schools.

The poll found that 60% of likely voters felt that state funding for public schools is inadequate. Those polled were split on how California’s funding fares against other states. 48% of likely voters said K-12 funding was either average or below average when compared to other states. The National Education Association ranks California 29th out of 50.

Not bad when half the voters get it right, which is rarely the case when PPIC asks about the level of education funding.

While the question of listing in order how the state spends its money was not included in this poll, it has been in past polls. Respondents get the order wrong, feeling schools fall below such items as prisons, for example. While school funding takes the lion’s share of state funding, PPIC has annually found that fewer than 1 in 5 voters know that to be true.

If you’re looking for drama, the race to watch on election night could well be the battle for Superintendent of Public Instruction. The poll indicates a potential barnburner of a political campaign. The two main candidates, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and school reformer Marshall Tuck are tied at 13% apiece.

Most voters declared no knowledge of the candidates. The Superintendent race four years ago was also a close battle when incumbent Tom Torlakson defeated Tuck 52% to 48%. Both candidates were backed by $10 million campaigns. Expect a repeat this go around with advocates of greater commitment to public education versus education reformers of all types square off for Thurmond and Tuck respectively.