Poll: Virginians support increased K-12 school funding

economic-forecast-headerIn yet another year of concerns over budget balancing, Virginians remain strongly supportive of funding for public schools, according to a new statewide survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll found that 64 percent of Virginians say Virginia schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs, while only 24 percent say schools have enough funding now. Almost seven-in-ten Virginians (69 percent) are willing to pay more in taxes to keep public schools funded at the current level, and 60 percent are willing to pay more so that school funding can be increased. Also, a majority of Virginians (56 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.

“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. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

For a second year, the poll asked Virginians whether they think state colleges and universities are doing a good job. Sixty-seven percent of Virginians say colleges and universities are doing a good job producing graduates in scientific fields and 65 percent say the same about providing the skills that will be useful in obtaining a job. Smaller majorities say the state schools do a good job preparing students for the workforce needs for the future (62 percent) and developing students’ writing and communication skills (59 percent).

There were differences in opinion depending on age, with younger respondents (aged 18-34) more likely to say colleges and universities were doing a good job in all categories. However, all age categories had a majority indicating higher education institutions were doing a good job.

Bosher noted, “Strong majorities of Virginians feel Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job preparing graduates for their careers and producing graduates in high-demand fields.”

After a clear shift toward opposition to test-based pay last year, Virginians’ level of support has increased nine percentage points this year to 37 percent. Still, most Virginians (51 percent) oppose paying teachers whose students perform well on tests more than those whose students perform poorly. Parents of public school students tend to be more opposed (59 percent) than others to including test scores in teacher pay.

Proponents of linking test scores with teacher pay sometimes argue that such proposals will help schools retain high quality teachers. This year brings another shift in opinion on this issue, with respondents being more divided on whether test-based pay will help retain good teachers. Forty-seven percent think that test-based pay will help with retention, while 44 percent think it will not help.

There are sizeable differences of opinion by political party. At 57 percent, Republicans were most likely to say test-based pay will help keep high-quality teachers. Half of Independents held the same view, while only 42 percent of Democrats thought test-based pay would help.

Job tenure is a concept unique to the educational sector. What does the public think about offering tenure to teachers? After a shift toward opposition to tenure last year, Virginians again are more divided on the issue this year. A plurality of respondents, 48 percent, opposes offering tenure, while 38 percent support it and 14 percent are undecided. School employees and retirees are more likely than other state residents to favor tenure, with 50 percent supporting it. Partisan differences exist as well with 43 percent of Democrats favoring tenure, while only 37 percent of Independents and 34 percent of Republicans do.

“Virginians’ opinions continue to shift on the issues of test-based pay and tenure with no clear majority for either in this year’s poll,” said Farrah Stone Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wilder School and director of the survey.



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