Home VCU poll finds majority willing to pay more taxes to support schools

VCU poll finds majority willing to pay more taxes to support schools


vcu-logoWhile legislators continue to look for ways to make up for an unexpected shortfall in tax revenue, a new Virginia Commonwealth University Commonwealth Education Poll found Virginians remain strongly supportive of funding for public schools and see funding as having a direct impact on school quality.

The poll, conducted annually by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, found more than two-thirds of Virginians (68 percent) said that Virginia schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs, while only 26 percent say schools have enough funding now.

More than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) also said the amount of funding affects the quality of schools a great deal or quite a lot. School employees/retirees (at 60 percent) and parents of public school students (at 59 percent) were more likely to say funding mattered a great deal when compared to nonemployee/retiree (50 percent) and nonparent respondents (49 percent). Likewise, 58 percent of minorities said funding mattered a great deal compared to 48 percent of whites.

Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to support school funding levels. A majority of respondents (70 percent) said they would be willing to pay more in taxes to keep public schools funded at the current level and 53 percent are willing to pay more so that school funding can be increased. Of those willing to pay more to increase funding for public schools, 44 percent favored a sales tax as the best vehicle for a tax increase while 22 percent preferred an increased income tax.

Larger proportions of Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to protect funding for public schools (70 percent) and mental health services (72 percent) than would do so to keep programs for aid to low-income families (56 percent), funding for higher education (48 percent) and transportation (46 percent) at current level. Only about a quarter of state residents (27 percent) are willing to pay more to keep funding for prisons at current levels.

“The gap in relative support between mental health services and public education on one extreme and prisons on the other may well explain why the governor and General Assembly leaders in October cut more than 500 state jobs in the Department of Corrections while sparing K-12 education,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., associate professor and interim executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute. “While those cuts are no less painful for the people laid off, it appears the decision was aligned with the public’s sense of priorities.”

In other poll results, half of Virginians (50 percent) said bullying and harassment is a “very serious problem” in schools and another 37 percent said it is a “somewhat serious” problem. A majority (56 percent) also responded that bullying and harassment are more of a problem today than when they were younger. Minorities (61 percent) and women (57 percent) were more likely to view bullying as a very serious problem than were whites (44 percent) and men (41 percent). Those from the south central and Tidewater regions (56 percent) were also more likely than respondents from other regions to see it as a very serious problem. Lower income, those with high school or less education, and Democratic respondents also more frequently said bullying and harassment was a very serious problem.

“Since the inappropriateness of bullying became a required part of state-mandated character education programs in 2005, state and local school officials have invested significant energy and resources in preventing bullying,” McDougle said. “This shows that the public is likely supportive of those efforts but also that they feel bullying and harassment continue to be a sobering and very real part of school life.”

Even with the concerns about bullying, a majority of Virginians said the schools in their community are safe. Seventy-nine percent of respondents indicated feeling their community’s schools were safe or very safe and 29 percent said they were very safe. Only 19 percent responded that their schools were not very or not at all safe. There were regional differences for those who felt their schools were safe or very safe. Respondents from Northern Virginia (90 percent) and the northwest regions (85 percent) were more likely to say their schools were safe or very safe. In contrast, respondents from Tidewater (31 percent) and the west region of the state (26 percent) were more likely to say schools were not very safe or not at all safe.

Family income and also race play a role in the safety perceptions of respondents. Those with household income below $50,000 (26 percent) were more likely to say schools were not very safe or not at all safe than were higher household income brackets — $50,000-$100,000 (19 percent) or $100,000 or more (13 percent). Minority respondents (28 percent) were also more likely to say not very safe or not at all safe compared to white respondents (15 percent).

In another perennial policy issue before the General Assembly, for the third year in a row the
Commonwealth Education Poll found a solid majority of Virginians (61 percent) are in favor of localities having the option to start school earlier than Labor Day while 35 percent opposed such a policy. Those with higher incomes and higher levels of postsecondary education were the respondents most likely to favor school systems having the option.

The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 27, 2014, to Jan. 3, 2015, with a random sample of 806 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

For a PDF of the 27-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.



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