Field Poll shows majority support for increased state funding to public education


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In the wake of growing concerns over state divestment from the UC system, Field Poll results released last week reveal that a majority of California voters view K-12 schools and higher education as areas in the state budget that deserve more funding.

The poll — which interviewed 1,241 registered voters via telephone, in six languages — asked voters, given six possible choices, where extra funding, such as surplus tax revenue, should be allocated. They found that 52 percent of voters supported funding for K-12 public schools. Higher education came in second at 36 percent.

Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll director, said the state Legislature’s nonpartisan budget analyst found that the state will likely collect at least $1 billion to $2 billion more in taxes during the current fiscal year than what Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration had estimated in its January spending plan.

“It’s not surprising there’s a lot of strong support for funding education,” said Ted Lempert, a UC Berkeley political science lecturer. “The irony is that there’s strong support for funding, but compared to the rest of the country, California ranks low in (funding) those two areas.”

Lempert said that while there is strong public support for education, advocacy for funding is diffuse. Alumni, administrators, faculty, K-12 schools and students all push for more money, he said, but not in a coordinated way. What’s not getting across to policymakers is that the average voter wants education prioritized as well, according to Lempert.

Andrew Woo, a UC Berkeley senior leading a DeCal on California politics, said another big reason why the state may be less inclined to increase funding is what he described as the lack of accountability and transparency in how the UC Board of Regents allocates funding.

Although higher education should be prioritized, it is not easy with so many cost pressures on California’s overall budget, Woo said.

The UC regents and Brown are in the midst of negotiations regarding the UC budget. Whereas the regents passed a policy last year that would raise tuition unless the state provided more funding, Brown’s proposed funding increase relies on tuition remaining flat.

According to Woo, people need to stop focusing all of their attention on Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano and instead recognize the state Legislature, which also has a say in how money is spent.

Debra Coltoff, a former teacher at San Leandro High School, said she has seen the impact of budget cuts in her classroom. During her tenure, the school library’s hours and funding for new textbooks were cut, and money for basic supplies came out of her own pocket.

“The things that are getting left behind for the kids the most (are) all the things we see as unimportant,” she said. “We need these programs to help (kids) develop.”

Contact Jamie Nguyen at [email protected].