RICHMOND, Va. — More than two-thirds of Virginians think public schools aren’t adequately funded, and most residents of the Commonwealth would support paying more in taxes to enhance student performance, according to a statewide poll released Monday.
The Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute released the findings as the General Assembly prepared to convene on Wednesday. According to the CEPI’s 15th annual Commonwealth Education poll:
- 67 percent of Virginians say public schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs
- 71 percent think funding substantially affects the quality of education
- 56 percent would pay higher taxes to improve K-12 schools
- 63 percent would be supportive if the funding targeted low-performing schools
“We try to put our poll out every year at the start of the General Assembly so that all the members, the governor and his executives can have an idea of what the opinions by region are around the Commonwealth,” said Robyn McDougle, interim executive director of the institute, based at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The survey could prove a valuable resource as legislators evaluate Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget for 2016-2018.
Although Virginians support increasing, or at least maintaining, the current status of K-12 funding, McDougle said the breakdown varies by political party, with Democrats being more supportive of education funding even if it requires tax increases.
Under McAuliffe’s proposed budget, education and health and human services would receive the most sizable portions of state funding in the upcoming biennium.
“I don’t know that it’ll help things go over more smoothly, but it’s always good to have nonpartisan data,” McDougle said.
The state’s Direct Aid to Public Education currently totals about $5.56 billion. The proposed budget would boost that to $5.83 billion in 2017 and $6.14 billion in 2018. Most of the money would fund initiatives such as school breakfast programs for low-income children, higher salaries for educators and alternatives to disciplinary actions such as suspensions for at-risk youth.
McDougle said that in creating the poll, the CEPI collaborated with Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and Anne Holton, Virginia’s secretary of education.
“We showed them the questions and got some feedback on what questions they’d like to include,” McDougle said. “We like them to be stakeholders just like other members of the community.”
The poll also found that most Virginians have concerns about high-stakes testing such as the state’s Standards of Learning assessments.
“They believe the purpose of SOLs are to improve performance and achievement,” McDougle said. “But the way we’re testing, the majority feel teachers are spending too much time focusing on the testing.”
According to the CEPI findings, constituents feel that because of the test-centric classroom environment, important material gets bypassed and that the SOLs put too much pressure on students.
The poll also asked about how safe people believe their K-12 schools are. Most Virginians – especially in the western and northern parts of the state – said their schools were “safe” or “very safe.” The biggest concern was in the Tidewater area, where 28 percent of respondents felt their schools were not safe.
“Especially with everything we’re seeing across the country right now, it’s really nice to see our citizens feel where their children are going is safe,” McDougle said. She said respondents thought increased school security and mental health services would help bolster safety in schools.
The governor’s proposed budget would add $35 million to enhance mental health treatment centers and services in 2017.
McDougle said her team will provide copies of the poll data to all members of McAuliffe’s cabinet and the education and health committees in the House and Senate. She said she will most likely present the results directly during committee meetings as well.
The Commonwealth Education Poll used a representative sample of 801 Virginia adults, interviewed by landline and cell phone. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Dec. 15-20. The margin of error was 4.2 percentage points.
By Sarah King