California voters want safe K-12 school environments, less emphasis on tests, poll finds

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With regards to public K-12 schools, most California voters agree that they want more emphasis placed on creating safe and positive school environments, but they are divided on issues of immigration, according to the Berkeley IGS Poll.

The poll, which was conducted from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5 and released last Thursday, surveyed 1,200 registered California voters throughout the state on behalf of EdSource, a nonprofit publication that reports on California education and policy. The sample of voters included 200 parents of school-aged children, and the poll asked questions about K-12 education in relation to vulnerable students, immigration policies, special education students, bullying and income inequality, among other issues.

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said creating a safe and positive school environment should be of high importance when evaluating California public schools’ performance. By comparison, only 33 percent said the same about standardized test scores.

Nearly seven out of 10 voters said that low-income parents have few options for their children’s schools, and 55 percent favored providing government subsidies so that low-income parents can send their children to a private or religious school if they don’t like their public-school choices.

“I thought it was interesting, the whole issue of low-income families and the support that voters have for offering them tax credits,said Mark DiCamillo, director of Berkeley IGS Poll. “I think that’s worthy of greater study.

Despite agreement among voters about school priorities, the poll saw a sharp partisan divide emerge in questions related to immigration. Among registered Democrats, 83 percent were very or somewhat concerned about how the federal government’s stricter immigration enforcement policies will impact public school students’ mental health, compared to 26 percent among registered Republicans. Overall, 60 percent of voters were very or somewhat concerned about the federal government’s stricter immigration enforcement policies.

The majority of those surveyed also consider it very important that schools provide more funding to address the needs of homeless and special education students. With regards to school funding, roughly half of the voters also expressed support for students in foster care and students learning English, while 35 percent voted to address the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

A large percentage of voters supported the idea that school evaluations should prioritize increasing graduation rates, preparing students for college or the workforce and increasing attendance rates.

According to Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource, these responses show, overall, that California schools are moving in the right direction.

“I think it sends a message that we expect schools to do more than just educate kids in the classroom,” Freedberg said. “There’s a growing move to look at the whole child. You have to look at the broader context.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.