Most Voters Still Lowball the Amount of Money Funding K-12 Public Schools

Interesting results from a survey by the Foundation for Educational Choice came out recently, gauging opinions and understanding of education issues of voters in six different states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York.

Taking a look at the full results (PDF) is fascinating. A few items about school choice jump out. Respondents in all states strongly support charter schools and private school tax credit programs and also favor vouchers. But interestingly, there was a lot of skepticism about virtual schools. Maybe if voters in these states were more familiar with online education as we are in Colorado, their opinions would change.

The two questions I wanted to focus on related to public school funding. The share of survey respondents who said funding in their state is “too low” (51 percent) was nearly five times as high as those who said it’s “too high” (11 percent), and more than those who say it’s “just right” (31 percent). Schools always need more funding, right?

But just as a 2007 Harvard survey for Education Next so prominently demonstrated, the voters in the new Foundation for Educational Choice survey wildly underestimated how much money is currently being spent per student. The median answer ranged from 27 percent of the actual amount in Alabama to 46 percent of the actual amount in Arkansas, while only 1 in 9 correctly identified the range of per-pupil funding in their respective states.

What wasn’t tested was whether and how much learning the correct spending figure changes the opinions of those surveyed — as a couple of professors showed in a 2008 study. And if, as seems more and more likely, it’s true that the Golden Age of Education Spending is over, just how will public opinion on the topic change? And will school leaders embrace the golden opportunity to reform?