Public Wants Federal Government to Play Active, But Not Punitive, Role in Strengthening Public Schools
Summary: A new study by the Center on Policy Attitudes (COPA) reveals that the American public is looking to the federal government to play an active, but not punitive, role in strengthening public schools. There is strong support for a federal role in testing, but the majority opposes using such tests as a basis for withholding federal funds from schools that perform poorly. While about half support the idea of vouchers, this support collapses if the money is to be taken away from the existing public school budget. A strong majority believes the federal government should ensure at least a minimum level of spending per pupil in public schools, with nearly half saying the government should ensure an equivalent level of spending for all students. Overall, support for increased spending is strong. Education ranks as the top issue that Americans say will influence their vote in the 2000 election.
These findings are derived from a nationwide poll of 650 randomly selected Americans conducted from June 23-July 9, 2000. The results were weighted to reflect national demographics. The margin of error is +/- 3.8%. For a complete copy of the questionnaire, go to the COPA website at www.policyattitudes.org.
1. While there is strong support for federally sponsored testing, only a small minority favors using test scores as a basis for withholding federal funds from schools that test poorly.
Other polls have found support for federally sponsored testing. For example, a June 1998 Gallup poll found that 71% favored the federal government setting up a national testing program to be administered in the fourth and eighth grades.
However, only a very small minority supports the idea of using test scores as a basis for withholding federal funds from schools that test poorly.
2. Approximately half favor vouchers for private and religious schools; however, this support drops to a small minority if this would result in money being diverted from public schools. If a voucher program were to be instituted, only a minority would favor having the voucher be equal to the cost of private schools, while a majority would favor having the value be equal to the savings to the public school from having one less student.
When first presented a question on vouchers, a plurality favors them:
However, only half of those who favor it would do so if the money for vouchers is taken out of the existing public school budget. Those who said they favored vouchers were asked:
Thus only one out of four said they would support vouchers if the money were to come from the existing public school budget.
Respondents were also asked about the monetary value of school vouchers. Here again, the majority expressed the view that vouchers should not harm the public schools.
3. A strong majority believes the federal government should ensure at least a minimum level of spending per pupil in public schools. Nearly half say that the government should ensure an equivalent level of spending for all students.
Respondents were presented the following question:
Those who chose statement B were also asked a follow-on question: “Do you think the federal government is doing enough to ensure the basic level of spending for all schools, or do you think the federal government should be doing more?” Of this group, only 26% (7% of the full sample) said they were doing enough, while 67% (19% of the full sample) said they should do more.
Other polls have also found strong support for the idea that the federal government should play the role of equalizing educational opportunity. In a June 1998 Lake Snell Perry poll, 80% found convincing the argument that:
If there are no federal standards, then children in different states will not have the same access to the same opportunities and they will be unable to reach their full potential. We need to ensure that every child in America has a quality public education and the opportunity to succeed.
In the same poll, 64% said the federal
government should play a “strong role,” and 23% said it should play a
“somewhat strong role,” in “working to ensure an equal opportunity to
education for all students.”
4. A strong majority supports increased funding of education, even though a large plurality is aware that funding for education has been going up.
Respondents were presented the following question:
This support for increased funding was strong even though a plurality recognizes that funding for education has been going up during the last five years.
In a recent COPA/Knowledge Networks poll, respondents were presented the discretionary federal budget and asked how they would allocate it. On average, federal spending on education was increased by 44%; and 69% of respondents increased education by taking some funds away from other categories.
Other polls have also found support for increasing funding of education. A March 2000 ABC News/Washington Post poll found 75% saying federal spending on education should be increased a great deal (42%) or somewhat (23%). In an August 2000 Gallup poll, 67% said they would be willing to “pay higher taxes in order to improve the quality of education in your local school district.”
5. Education is the top priority among voters for the 2000 election.
Respondents were asked about the relevance of the candidates’ positions on various issues in the context of the upcoming election. Education scored the highest of the four that were tested.
Other polls also have found strong majorities placing education high on American’s list of concerns. In an ABC/Washington Post poll, asked “How important will...improving education and the schools... be to you in deciding how to vote in the 2000 presidential election in November,” 77% said it would be very important, and another 17% said it would be somewhat important. In an August CNN/USA Today poll, asked “How important the candidates' positions on [education]… will be in influencing your vote for president?” 50% said it would be extremely important, and 41% said it would be very important.
contact us | links