In the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, 52% of respondents had a favorable opinion of charter schools. But voters overall opposed supporting charters at the expense of resources for traditional schools.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/sxxxeb
Bob Geminder teaches math at the Opportunities Unlimited Charter School in South Los Angeles in October. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
November 18, 2011 - Charter schools have won over about half of California voters, but these independent, non-traditional public schools are not widely viewed as the solution to the state's education problems, according to a new poll.
Among those surveyed in the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, 52% had a favorable opinion about charters; only 12% had an unfavorable impression.
Asked whether charter schools or traditional schools provided a better education, 48% gave superior marks to charters; 24% considered traditional schools more effective.
"As people learn more about what charter schools are, they tend to like the idea of choice," said USC professor Priscilla Wohlstetter, who directs the university's Center on Educational Governance.
The charter model appealed to Latino parents in particular. Overall, 52% of parents — those who have a child or grandchild age 18 or under living at home — said they would consider enrolling their children in a charter, compared to 38% who said they would not. Among Latino parents, 56% were in favor and 30% disinclined. More than half the state's public school students are Latino.
Christopher Gonzales, a construction worker in San Jose, has three nieces in charter schools and a relative who works for one.
"There's more room for innovation and attacking a problem and thinking about it differently by going outside the traditional established schools," Gonzales said. "Charter schools can be bad too, but I think they have more potential for a better education."
Charters serve about 6% of California students, and some respondents said they skipped the charter-school questions because their knowledge of them was limited.
California has more than 900 charters, the most of any state. They are free from many regulations governing traditional public schools and at most of them, teachers and administrators are not unionized, as they are in other public schools.
Many teacher union leaders and other critics have worried that charters siphon public funds, philanthropy and the better students from traditional public schools.
But those fears have not permeated popular opinion, the poll found, especially among many who are familiar with charter schools. They include Jepal Mangum, 40, a Riverside parent who sent two children to a charter.
"I was really happy with the school," said Mangum, an African American independent voter who said she leans Democratic and supports unions. She liked the small classes and the personal relationship with teachers, two instructors in particular who shaped her children's "study habits and their outlooks on life. I believe the school really worked."
Among the largest ethnic groups, African American respondents expressed the most support for charter schools. A number of charters have an overwhelmingly black enrollment, but some critics have expressed concern about charters leading to re-segregation.
Voters overall opposed supporting charters at the expense of resources for traditional schools, said Stanley B. Greenberg, chief executive of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic firm that co-directed the bipartisan poll.
Far more people favored increasing funding for traditional schools over the strategy of creating more charters, by a 64%-21% tally. Nor are voters inclined to hand over low-performing public schools to outside operators, including those that run charters.
Only 32% said schooling would improve if low-performing campuses were assigned to "qualified, licensed, for-profit companies." The number rises to 37% for nonprofits. Nearly all California charters are organized as nonprofits.
"Most nonprofit organizations that are running schools or have ever run schools have some end game in mind," said Betsy Hillig, 63, a registered Democrat who lives in Lakewood. "I have not met a nonprofit entity that just wants to teach kids."
For-profit corporations "are even more horrible. They're in it for the money," said Hillig, a retired teacher with two grandchildren in traditional public schools and one in a parochial school.
In California, as elsewhere, charters represented a compromise: Conservative Republicans and some public school critics had previously pushed to let students attend private schools with government-funded vouchers for tuition, but California voters rejected that approach. Charters offered a different kind of choice — namely, public schools that are not run by the local school district.
"There's acceptance for charter schools," said Linda DiVall, the chief executive of American Viewpoint, the Republican polling firm that co-directed the survey.
Bill Teller, an 80-year-old registered Republican from north of Lake Tahoe who is married to a retired teacher, offered general support for these schools.
"Charters are a step in the right direction," he said. But he would go further: "I would disband the current system entirely and put it all on a voucher system."
The survey, conducted for the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and The Los AngelesTimes, questioned 1,500 registered California voters Oct. 30 through Nov. 9. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.
POLL: Majority of CA Voters Favor Increasing Taxes to Fund Public Schools: Californians give low grades to state public school system, high marks to their neighborhood schools.
USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Press Release http://bit.ly/sm4WQd
LOS ANGELES — November 19, 2011 — A large majority of California voters would support an increase in their own taxes in order to increase funding for public schools, according to the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is the largest poll of registered voters in California. The latest poll was conducted Oct. 30 - Nov. 9, 2011, and surveyed 1,500 registered voters in California. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2.52 percentage points.
California currently ranks 42 out of 50 states in funding per student. When provided with this information, 61 percent of voters said they’d favor increasing funding for California’s public schools — even if it means an increase in their own taxes — and 38 percent favored it strongly. Of all voters, 34 percent opposed increasing funding for public schools if it meant paying higher taxes.
But even when not told about California’s relatively low amount of per-student funding, Californian voters still support more money for public schools: overall, 64 percent of voters favor increasing funds for public schools despite the possibility of a tax increase, including 63 percent of White voters, 68 percent of Latino voters, 65 percent of Asian American voters and 72 percent of Black voters.
"These results reinforce what we've learned when local governments put tax or bond measures on the ballot," said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "Voters are willing to spend more money if they know that money is going to be used in their local schools or communities. They become more reluctant to vote for these measures when they think the money is going to Sacramento."
Registered Republican voters were the most split on whether to increase funding for public schools if it meant the possibility of higher taxes, and parents were most strongly in favor. Among Republican voters, 53 percent oppose increasing funding for public schools if it could mean paying higher taxes, and 44 percent of Republicans support it.
Overall, 32 percent of Californians oppose increasing public school funding if it meant personally paying more taxes. Among Democratic voters, 74 percent support school funding even in the face of higher taxes, and 20 percent are opposed. Among voters registered “Decline to State,” 71 percent of voters favor more money for schools even with possible tax increases, and 25 percent oppose it.
Among parents and grandparents with a child in the household under 18 years old, 74 percent favor more public school funding, even if it could mean personally paying more taxes, and 24 percent oppose.
Public Schools: Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Michael Finnegan, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, discuss how Californians feel public schools.
CA VOTERS: PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM GETTING WORSE, BUT HIGH MARKS FOR LOCAL SCHOOLS
The wide support for increases in funding for public schools reflect voter sentiment that schools in California are in “bad shape” and “getting worse.” A majority of voters – 57 percent – say public schools are in bad shape, including 55 percent of parents or grandparents raising a child under 18. Thirty-three percent of all voters surveyed say public school are in good shape, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.
Overall, 53 percent of California voters say public schools are getting worse, compared to 37 percent who believe schools are improving.
Californians gave middling grades to public schools, with 41 percent giving public schools a “C.” Twenty-seven percent of voters gave public schools a grade of “A” or “B,” and 26 percent of voters gave schools a “D” or “F.”
Yet when asked about schools in their own neighborhood, voters were much more positive. Sixty-four percent of parents or grandparents raising a child under 18 said their child’s school was doing an excellent or good job preparing their child for college. Thirty-one percent said their child’s school was not doing a good job with college preparation.
Overall, 55 percent of voters gave public schools in their own neighborhood high marks with a grade of “A” or “B.” Twenty percent gave their neighborhood public school a “C,” and 10 percent gave local public schools a “D” or “F” grade.
“Everybody has a tendency to think schools are better in their own area. But what’s interesting to me is the large percentage that say we need to raise taxes to improve the quality of education . . . there’s a mythology of the public school system, that we have to improve the public school system,” said Linda DiVall, president of American Viewpoint, the Republican polling firm that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll in partnership with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “Given the state of the economy, I was pretty impressed with the strong desire to increase taxes to pay for better quality education.”
“Across party lines and ideologies in tough times to favor raising taxes on yourself is impressive, which is why I think “tipping point” might be the right characterization of [these results],” said Stanley Greenberg, president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “These are not just poll numbers; we’re seeing this reflected in real life. Voters know their schools are in trouble, they know they’re getting worse, and parents know more so than the public overall.”
By the largest percentage, voters blamed lack of parental involvement for public school woes in California. About 86 percent said shortage of parental involvement has contributed to problems in public schools, compared to 62 percent who blamed teacher’s unions or 54 percent who blame for-profit corporations, including those that operate charter schools.
Seventy-five percent of voters said funding shortages for public schools deserve blame; 71 percent blamed social and economic differences that prevent students from many areas from having access to high-quality schools.
Charter Schools: Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Howard Blume, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, discuss how Californians feel about charter schools.
Overall, a majority of parents had positive impressions of charter schools, saying they would consider enrolling their child in a charter school, with 52 percent of parents saying charter schools were an option, and 38 percent saying they would not consider charter schools for their child.
But voters thought funds should be directed at traditional public schools rather than creating new charter campuses, with 64 percent favoring investments in traditional public schools over charter schools. Twenty-one percent supported opening more charter schools instead of spending additional funds on public schools.
Forty-eight percent of voters said charter schools, which are independently run public schools, provide a higher-quality public education than traditional public schools, and 24 percent said traditional public schools provide a higher-quality public education than charter schools.
A majority of voters support a proposal mirroring the "Parent Trigger" law passed by the state Board of Education in July 2011. The proposal would allow a majority vote of parents at low-performing schools to petition for changes including closing the school, turning it into a charter, or new staff, programs and administration. Fifty-two percent of Californians overall support a "Parent Trigger"-like proposal and 35 percent opposed. Among parents, 59 percent of parents support the proposal, and 33 percent oppose it.
Higher Education: Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, and Howard Blume, reporter for the Los Angeles Times, discuss how Californians feel about higher education.
VOTERS POLARIZED ON THE CA DREAM ACT
White voters and Latino voters in California were widely split on the California Dream Act, signed by Governor Jerry Brown into law in October 2011.
The California Dream Act allows non-legal residents who graduated from California high schools to be eligible for government financial aid at the state’s public universities.
By a double-digit margin, California voters oppose college financial aid for non-legal high school graduates, with 55 percent opposed and 40 percent support. Two out of three white voters (66 percent) oppose the California Dream Act, and 30 percent support it. In sharp contrast, among Latinos in California, 79 percent of voters support the Dream Act, and 16 percent oppose it.
"Californians have indicated their willingness to provide some government services to illegal immigrants in our past polls, but they are not yet convinced that government-funded financial aid for college students should be one of those services", said Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. "Not surprisingly, this is the type of issue that splits Californians demographically. While there doesn't appear to be the same level of emotional intensity on this as we've seen on related matters in the past, the state's voters are still a long way from agreement in this debate."
California enrolls about 10 percent of the nation’s students attending public four-year colleges, and Californians are split about whether these public higher education institutions are affordable. Forty-one percent of voters say universities in the University of California system and the California State University system are affordable, and 49 percent say the universities are not affordable.
"On affordability, it looks to me like the widespread news about tuition and fee increases is really hitting home," said Dominic Brewer, Clifford H. and Betty C. Allen Professor in Urban Leadership and professor of education, economics and policy at the USC Rossier School of Education. "So while relative to other states, California's higher education institutions still have modest tuition levels, the steep increases recently have impacted perceptions of cost. Also, of course, affordability is relative to our own economic situation, and many families are hurting, making tuition expenses seem even more out of reach."
Among parents, a majority — 53 percent — say public universities are not affordable, and 39 percent say they are very or somewhat affordable.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted Oct. 30 – Nov. 9, 2011, and surveyed 1,500 registered voters in California. The poll includes a significant oversample of Latino voters, interviewed in both Spanish and English. The margin of error for the overall sample is +/- 2.52 percentage points. For poll methodology visit http://gqrr.com/index.php?ID=2683.
More results from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, including findings about voter opinions on teacher pay, California public schools, and the CA Dream Act, will be made available in the coming days on the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll website, dornsife.usc.edu/poll, and in the Los Angeles Times.
FOR MEDIA: Phone conference Tuesday, November 22 at 10 a.m. PST
WHO: Panelists include:
- Dan Schnur, director of USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC
- Dominic Brewer, Clifford H. and Betty C. Allen Professor in Urban Leadership and professor of education, economics, and policy at the USC Rossier School of Education
- Representatives from polling firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint
HOW: Call-in spots are limited. To reserve a spot for the phone conference, RSVP to Suzanne Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call-in numbers:
United States: (800) 230-1951
International: +01 (612) 234-9960
About the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.
Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.
About USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC's 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.
About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing latimes.com draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.