Most Californians are worried that additional cuts to public schools will hurt the quality of education, but they don’t have much faith in the Legislature to solve the problem. A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that a majority of adults and likely voters support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for a special election to vote on extending a temporary tax in order to close the $26 billion budget gap. However, most oppose a hike in the state sales tax or in personal income taxes – unless it’s aimed at the state’s wealthiest residents.
Support for the governor’s proposal has climbed slightly since last month, with 56% of likely voters saying they favor a special election, up from 51% in March. But the numbers vary significantly when broken down by party. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats – 72% – back the special election, versus 53% of Independents and 38% of Republicans.
PPIC interviewed 2,504 adults between April 5 and 19, 2011. They’ve been conducting this survey for seven years.
Parents say school conditions are worsening
An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said the quality of education will suffer if schools are forced to make more cuts. Public school parents are especially concerned, with 74% warning that schools cannot absorb any more cuts. Half the parents said education has already gotten worse in the past few years; nearly twice as many as when they were asked that question in 2007.
That came as a bit of a surprise to Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC, who said it indicates that the “state budget cuts have gone from being abstract to being noticeable to public school parents.” Specifically, parents are concerned about teacher layoffs, shortening the school year, eliminating art and music programs, and increasing class sizes.
Interestingly, most public school parents held positive views of their children’s schools. Half of them rated their schools with a B or better, a level that hasn’t changed in six years. However, there are deep differences by race and ethnicity. While a majority of Latinos, 59%, gave their kids’ schools a grade of B or A, 45% of Black parents said their schools only deserved a C.
Most people surveyed agreed that not all schools are equal. Sixty-five percent said they are “very concerned that students in lower-income areas have a shortage of good teachers compared to schools in wealthier areas,” and 79% said resources are not evenly distributed. In fact, two-thirds of the people interviewed said schools in lower-income communities should receive a larger share of money if more state funds become available.
Taxing the wealthy
A majority of voters wouldn’t mind if those funds came from additional taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents. Overall, 62% of likely voters would support raising the state income tax on the wealthy.
“That’s something we’ve consistently seen support for,” said Baldassare. “Most voters perceive what they’re being asked to pay in taxes is fair and reasonable, but wealthy people can afford to pay more.”
The support, however, is highly divided along party lines, with 82% of Democrats in favor of it and 60% of Republicans opposed.
The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) is already advocating for the tax hike, arguing that a 1% increase in the state tax rate on Californians earning $500,000 or more could raise $2.5 billion more for education. The cause has been taken up by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who introduced AB 1130 in the Assembly earlier this year, although it’s as likely to pass as any other tax increase that requires Republican support.
Low marks for the legislature
The inability of state lawmakers to reach agreement on the budget has made them about as popular as Donald Trump would be at the President’s birthday party. Only 9% of likely voters approve of the way the legislature is handling public education.
Brown fares better, but only marginally. His job approval rating is at 40%; however, 31% are withholding judgment.
No wonder Californians don’t trust Sacramento to make decisions about school funding. When asked who should have the most control in deciding how state education funds are spent in public schools, a whopping 83% put their faith in local school districts.
“It’s always telling in terms of where people have their trust and confidence, and the flip side is where they don’t,” said Baldassare. “They don’t see a state government that is responsible and solutions-oriented right now.”