The Public Policy Institute of California latest poll focused on the challenges facing education across the state. The information gathered gives a broad view of the education landscape although some follow-up questions would have been helpful to dig deeper on some of the issues, especially in the area of school funding.  

Overall, the poll revealed concerns of adults, likely voters and parents on the pandemic effect and distance learning, school funding, curriculum, class sizes and quality of education. The survey and results on all the categories examined can be found here

For our purposes let’s look at the school funding questions. 

When asked what the most import issue is facing the state’s K-12 public schools, likely voters gave equal weight to COVID-19 distance learning and lack of funding at 14% apiece. While Democrats split evenly on those two issues (at 18%) and Republicans similarly about even (8% COVID to 7% funding), Independent voters cited lack of funding at 15% to COVID distance learning at 11%. The five regions of the state broken down in the poll also favored lack of funding, except for one—the largest. The Los Angeles Region found the greatest concern is the virus and distance learning by 18% to 10% over lack of funding.

Interestingly, when the respondents were asked where California ranked in per pupil spending for K-12 students, despite citing lack of funding, they thought California did pretty well in per pupil spending. Likely voters said that California spending was near the top (12%), above average (24%) or average (31%). Only one-third of the respondents didn’t think California was funding schools at least average or above. 

But when asked if state funding for schools was more than enough, just enough, or not enough, 55% said not enough compared to a combined 43% choosing more than enough (14%) and just enough (29%). 

Deeper questioning is needed to determine why these voters think the state does a pretty good job with funding but at the same time many say there is not enough funding in the schools. 

The survey checked with voters on certain fund-raising mechanisms. 

Asked about the property tax increase for commercial property destined for the ballot that would send a portion of the revenue raised to schools, 53% of likely voters supported the idea while 47% opposed. The prospect went over strongly in the Central Valley and the Bay Area but not so much in Los Angeles and the remainder of Southern California. 

Once again, a PPIC poll question on this property tax increase issue was simple asking about raising business property taxes and funding schools. Follow-up questions raising pros and cons about the issue would reveal a clearer understanding where the voters are on tax increases during this chaotic time. 

Voters were not so eager to lower the two-thirds vote to 55% to pass local school parcel taxes. Likely voters opposed the idea by a 58% to 40% margin. Local parcel taxes to fund schools also hit a wall with the voters. 42% liked the idea, 57% opposed. 

A state school construction bond faired better in this poll with 53% supporting the plan and 45% opposing. But, while likely voters said they favored a state school bond, a follow-up question about whether it was a good idea or a bad idea for the state government to issue school construction bonds, likely voters turned a thumbs down, 54% to 44%. 

A state school construction bond went down to defeat in the March election, and that was before the full force of the pandemic hit California with all its consequences. 

An actual election well might produce a different reaction than a poll question not tied to a specific ballot measure. It would be interesting to know how the poll respondents voted in March on the state school bond, a question that was not asked. 

Support for local school construction bonds essentially broke even with 50% saying they would vote yes on such a bond and 49% choosing a no vote. (Local school bonds need a 55% vote to pass.) 

Data gathered by the poll did not settle school funding issues. The likely voters tested seemed inconsistent at times over whether there was enough funding. There seemed a greater resolve not to support more funding through bonds and taxes but that issue, too, was cloudy.

More polling with complex questions will come closer to where the voters are on school funding…and so will a passage of time when and if the coronavirus cloud is lifted.