2019 SchoolFunding (Getty)
What Americans say about…

Are schools adequately funded?

Most adults, in general, parents and teachers say their local schools have too little money; Black Americans are especially likely to believe this. Even a majority of the most affluent Americans say their schools are underfunded. Americans name lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing public schools in their community.

Six in 10 parents and all adults, and 75% of teachers, say their community’s schools have too little money. Blacks especially say so — 73%, compared with 57% of Whites. It’s a view that’s much more prevalent among Democrats than Republicans (72% vs. 45%) and liberals compared with conservatives (75% vs. 42%). (Sixty-four percent of moderates and 57% of independents also say their schools are underfunded.)

Even among the best-off Americans, those in $100,000-plus households, 54% see their schools as underfunded. But that rises to 64% of those with incomes less than $50,000.

If I could produce unlimited funding for my son's public schools, I would raise the public school teachers salaries by 50%. That would give teachers incentive to stay and to work hard for our children. It would also be incentive to get new teachers here.

Sandy, 54, White mother of one in urban Missouri

Further, in an open-ended question, 25% of all adults say inadequate financial support is the biggest problem facing the public schools today. It’s far and away the top-cited problem, with all other responses in the single digits. Among teachers, even more — 36% — call lack of funding the schools’ biggest problem.

This is the 18th straight year in which lack of funding has led the PDK poll’s biggest-problem list. That’s largely a shift from the 1970s and early 1980s when discipline was seen as the schools’ top problem, supplanted by concerns about drugs in the mid-1980s to 1990 and a mix of these issues in the 1990s.

The shifts over time are striking. In the first PDK poll in 1969, 26% called discipline the schools’ top problem, compared with 6% today. At its peak in 1990, 38% called drugs the main problem vs. just 3% today. And in the aftermath of the Great Recession, in 2010 and 2011 alike, 36% called school funding the biggest problem. That’s stayed high; today’s 25% compares with a prerecession average of 16%.

2019 Biggest Problem Facing Public Schools

It follows that about two-thirds of parents and all adults, rising to 85% of teachers, say they’re more apt to support a candidate for political office who favors increased school funding. Forty-one percent of all adults call a candidate’s position on school funding highly important to them; that rises to 55% of parents and jumps to 75% of teachers. That said, many fewer in each group say it’s “extremely” important, potentially limiting its effect on voting.

There are, again, strong political differences. Democrats overwhelmingly say they’re more likely to back a candidate who supports additional funding (80%), compared with independents (60%) and Republicans (43%). (In all cases, most of the rest say they’d support a candidate who wants to maintain current funding rather than making cuts.) Democrats (53%) also are more apt than independents (38%) or Republicans (30%) to see a candidate’s position on the issue as highly important.

These patterns largely hold up for parents, but teachers of all political stripes are more likely than non-teachers to back higher school funding and to see it as important.

2019 Political Candidates Support For Funding

Supporting higher funding doesn’t necessarily mean supporting higher taxes. Given a choice, 7 in 10 or more parents and all adults say they’d rather see cuts in other government-funded programs rather than raise taxes to provide more school funding. Sixty-one percent of teachers agree.

I say tax everything you can to help fund public schools! If we legalized marijuana everywhere and taxed it, think of the money that could benefit schools? The same is true with gambling, lotteries, and, to some extent, even other drugs. Overall, schools need more funding, and I am in favor of them getting it anyway they can.

Robin, 49, White mother of high school student in urban Pennsylvania

A potential tax increase is generally unpopular, with the notable exception of liberals, among whom 47% find it preferable to making cuts. Conservatives (13%) and Republicans (13%) are the least likely to favor tax increases for schools.

That said, there is one popular revenue source and two more possible. About 9 in 10 parents, teachers, and all adults support using revenue from state lotteries for public schools. About three-quarters of all adults favor using taxes on legal recreational marijuana and 80% favor using taxes on sports gambling as school funding sources. About half of parents (49%), all adults (52%), and teachers (53%) support legal recreational marijuana in their state, and about 6 in 10 support legal sports gambling — 58% of parents, 59% of all adults, and 63% of teachers.

2019 Sin Taxes Support Education

Funding matters in terms of perceptions of school quality. Among people who say their community’s schools’ funding is about right, 60% give those schools an A or B grade. That falls to 38% of those who say their schools have too little funding and 30% of the few who say their schools are overfunded.

Still, not everyone connects funding to school quality. Sixty percent of adults, 62% of parents, and 68% of teachers say the quality of the public schools is related to the amount of money spent on students in these schools. That means that about 4 in 10 parents and adults generally and one-third of teachers don’t share this view.

Again, political dispositions inform these attitudes. About three-quarters of Democrats and liberals see a relationship between money spent on students and school quality vs. 48% of Republicans and 46% of conservatives. Also, more educated Americans and those younger than age 50 are more likely than their counterparts to say there is a connection between school funding and school quality.

That said, views that funding and school quality are linked have risen from 50% among all adults in the 1998 PDK poll to today’s 60%.

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