PPIC polls finds Californians increasingly anxious over school budgets

The slashing of $17 billion in state support for public education over the past two years is finally hitting home with the average Californian, according to a new poll - but there's still no consensus for raising taxes to stem the losses.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found a large majority of adult residents - 62 percent - believe there's not enough state support for public schools, which is an increase of 12 percentage point from when the question was asked last year.

Among parents who have children in public schools, 43 percent said their neighborhood school has been affected by the recent state budget cuts - that's 15 percent points higher than when the poll was conducted last April.

The poll's author said those numbers illustrate that the average California family is becoming increasingly anxious about how schools are being impacted by the state's fiscal problems.

Californians are expressing a great deal of concern about the budget cuts - more so than in past years," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. "They are growing discontent with state funding for local schools."

The poll was drawn from landline and cell phone interviews with 2,504 California adults in five languages during the two-week period ending April 20. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

As Californians have become more aware and more concerned about public schools, they remain divided on a willingness to pay higher taxes to maintain current funding levels: 49 percent support, 47 percent said no - those numbers are similar to responses from last year.

But Baldassare pointed out that Californians are giving record low levels of approval for their state leaders when it comes to how schools are being managed: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's approval rating is down to just 16 percent - off 20 points from 2007. Meanwhile, the new poll measured the Legislature's approval rating on education at 15 percent, down 14 points from 2007.

He said the survey found much more support among Californians for selling bonds and raising parcel taxes on the local level than that was for hike taxes statewide. "People are saying they want more local control," he said.

The poll picked up a growing sense of anxiety over what might be coming as a result of massive teacher layoffs - 73 percent of those polled said that was very concerning. Almost 60 percent said bigger class sizes are an issue, 56 percent said they worry about a shorter school year and 56 percent said they were troubled by the expected loss of art and music curriculum.

Most Californians said they support the idea of merit pay for teachers: 62 percent favor, 26 percent oppose. An even larger number, 69 percent said student improvement on standardized tests should determine which teachers get extra pay; while a smaller number, 57 percent, said merit pay should be based on actual student achievement.

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