Californians are a little schizophrenic on how they look on the state’s public schools, based on the findings of a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters. On raising taxes, including their own, 64 percent said they would do so to “increase funding for California schools,” while 32 percent opposed. (In this and other results, those who didn’t respond make up the remainder needed to reach 100 percent.)
On the other hand, the voters’ opinion was low on the performance of the schools the tax money would fund, and on the teacher unions that have such a powerful influence over school budgets and operations.
Voters, 75 percent to 16 percent, said that “government bureaucracy and regulations that discourage innovation and reform” were to blame for problems in public schools. And, by 81 percent to 13 percent, voters blamed “[t]he system that allows money to be wasted on administration and bureaucracy.”
Asked who was to blame for the schools’ poor performance, 62 percent said “very much” or “somewhat” of that blame goes to “[t]eachers unions that have too much influence over public education policy and stand in the way of improving public schools.”
“People just want their schools to get better,” Jack Pitney told us; he’s a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “We have to be careful about assuming they would actually approve any tax increase that gets on the ballot. Opponents would question whether the money actually would get in the classroom. The money could end up going to pensions.” He said voters might approve a tax increase “provided it goes to education, not other things that don’t actually go into the classroom.”
Voters also are right to question the teachers’ unions, Lance Izumi told us; he’s director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. “People know that the most powerful special interest in the state is the teachers’ unions. They call the shots up here in Sacramento.” He also pointed out that there are many reports on the poor performance of kids in California schools.
For example, on Nov. 1, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its annual report of math scores. Just 34 percent of Golden State fourth-graders and 25 percent of eighth-graders scored “proficient” or “advanced.” That’s up from 13 percent in 2000. But the 2011 scores still are unacceptable in a state that leads the world in high-tech production.
And on NAEP reading scores, only Alaska, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico scored worse. It’s worth remembering that, as recently as the 1960s, California students scored near the top of the 50 states.
A number of tax increases well could be on the November 2012 ballot. Gov. Jerry Brown reportedly is working on $13 billion in tax increases for voter approval. There’s a $1 billion cigarette tax for cancer research. And the California Federation of Teachers is pushing for what it calls a “millionaire’s tax” on people earning at least $500,000.
Looks like it will be open season on taxpayers. Fortunately, voters will have the last word, at the ballot box.