Poll: Virginians support increased funding for public K-12

Virginians remain strongly supportive of funding for public schools and oppose test-based teacher pay, according to a new statewide survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The VCU Commonwealth Education Poll finds six?in-10 Virginians (60 percent) say that Virginia schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs, while 29 percent say schools have enough funding now. This year, a majority (51 percent) of Virginians says the amount of money spent on the schools affects education quality a great deal. This represents a 9 percent increase from 2010.

Those polled are willing to pay more in taxes to maintain school funding levels. Almost eight-in-10 Virginians (79 percent) say they would be willing to pay more in taxes to keep public schools funded at the current level. Also, a majority of Virginians (55 percent) believes that spending to improve the education system is a more important governmental priority than reducing the deficit. While overall support is strong, partisan differences exist with Republicans splitting from Democrats and Independents on the questions.

The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 9 to 29, 2011 with a random sample of 1,000 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. This poll is conducted annually by VCU’s Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute (CEPI.)

Job tenure is a concept unique to the educational sector. When the concept of tenure is explained in a balanced way, the poll finds a majority of 55 percent opposed to offering tenure to teachers, while 32 percent favor and 12 percent hold no opinion on the tenure issue. While more favorable toward the idea of tenure than other state residents, more school employees and retirees oppose tenure (47 percent) than favor it (43 percent).

Pay-for-performance proposals are still being considered as a possible cure for ailing public schools in Virginia and nationally. Most Virginians (59 percent) oppose paying teachers whose students perform well on tests more than those whose students perform poorly. At the same time, a majority (52 percent) says that basing part of a teacher’s salary on student test scores will not help the schools retain high quality teachers. And 28 percent of those polled say teachers whose students perform well should be paid more than other teachers.

There are sizeable differences of opinion by political party about whether test?based pay will help. Republicans split from Democrats and Independents; with a majority (59 percent) saying test?based pay will help keep high quality teachers. Only 34 percent of Independents and 30 percent of Democrats say the same.

School employees and retirees are more likely than other state residents to oppose test-based teacher pay.

“Even in tough budgetary times, Virginians show consistent support for education funding and are willing to pay for it,” said William C. Bosher, Jr., executive director, Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute and distinguished professor of public policy in the L. Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “Opinion seems to have turned this year on the issues of test-based pay and tenure with majorities opposing both.”

Bosher also noted the poll found strong majorities of Virginians believe Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job preparing graduates for their careers and producing graduates in high-demand fields.

Other survey findings:

Which Cuts Hurt Education Quality? The survey asked about the expected effect of six types of budget cuts on the quality of education in local schools. More than three-quarters of Virginians expect all of these cuts to hurt the quality of education either a lot or a little. Cuts expected to hurt the quality of education the most are those involving teacher layoffs — 76 percent say teacher layoffs would hurt a lot. The cuts seen as least likely to hurt education quality include layoffs of administrative staff — 36 percent say these cuts would hurt a lot. That was followed by cuts in teacher training and professional development, and 50 percent say these cuts would hurt the quality of education a lot.

Willingness to Pay for Schools and Other State Programs. Public schools top the list of programs that Virginians are willing to support with increased tax dollars in order to keep funding levels stable, but a majority of Virginians are willing to pay more for a number of programs. The poll finds 68 percent saying they would pay more in taxes to keep state mental health services at current levels and 63 percent willing to pay more for programs for aid to low-income families. Fewer say the same about higher education funding (49 percent) and transportation (50 percent.) About a quarter of state residents (26 percent) are willing to pay more to keep funding for prisons at current levels.

The Outcomes of a Higher Education. When it comes to specific outcome, majorities say Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job in all four areas considered. Of those polled, 68 percent say colleges and universities are doing a good job providing the skills that will be useful in obtaining a job and producing graduates in scientific fields. Smaller majorities say the state schools do a good job preparing students for the workforce needs for the future (66 percent) and developing students’ writing and communication skills (57 percent.)

Safety on College Campuses and the December 2011 Virginia Tech Shooting. A majority of Virginians (78 percent) say that Virginia’s college and university campuses are very or somewhat safe, while 17 percent said they are not very or not at all safe. This question was asked right after the most recent shooting incident at Virginia Tech on Dec. 8, 2011. Respondents who said they had been following the incident somewhat closely were most likely to say that college and university campuses were very safe (34 percent) versus those who were following very closely (20 percent).

Farrah Stone Graham, assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, is director of the survey. For a PDF of the 38-page report, including complete question wording and detailed tables of results, see www.cepionline.org.


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