Survey reveals Californians' -- and Mercedians' -- ideas on public education

Generally, those surveyed think education is struggling statewide but are happy with their own schools.

May 6, 2010 

Gene Hamill, a parent of a Peterson Elementary School student, said he supports merit pay for teachers.

"I absolutely agree in getting paid for what you do," he said. "If you're working hard, you're going to get a raise. I'm totally against across-the-board raises."

Hamill's views on rewarding teachers for student achievement are in line with 62 percent of Californians, or at least the ones surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The nonprofit think tank published its sixth annual statewide survey in late April on the perceptions and opinions of 2,504 adult Californians on kindergarten through 12th-grade public education in the state.

The group asked questions to get answers on people's attitudes toward the quality of the state's education and the state's fiscal response to education funding during tough economic times.

One of the questions asked was, "Where do you think California currently ranks in per pupil spending for K-12 public schools? Compared to other states, is California's spending above average, average, below average or don't know."

The survey stated that California ranked 43rd nationwide in per pupil spending, and 37 percent of those surveyed felt the state's education spending was below average.

More than half of those surveyed, 62 percent, said there isn't enough state funding going toward public schools. The same percentage said the state's budget shortfall will cause major cuts to public education.

Trisha Wylie, principal of Fremont Charter School, knows firsthand about the dwindling funding for schools at both the state and federal levels.

On the federal level, schools will be required to administer certain federal programs, but a lot of the time only part of it will be funded, she said, leaving schools to pay the rest.

On the state level, "the reality is that we're in a bind," she added.

This year, more than 22,000 educators were handed pink slips, she said.

Along those lines, 63 percent of those surveyed said education was the first public service they would shield from state cuts.

An overwhelming 85 percent of those surveyed said they felt the quality of California's education was a problem -- 53 percent said it was huge problem and 35 percent said it was somewhat of a problem.

Wylie noted that it's common for people to criticize the public education system in general, but when it comes to their own schools, people will say their kids are getting an effective education.

The survey conforms to her statement.

A majority of people surveyed in the Central Valley, 57 percent, gave their schools As or Bs when it came to quality.

In all other regions across the state, respondents also gave their local schools high marks.

With fluctuating answers like that, surveys should be taken with a grain of salt, she added. As long as people are happy locally, that's what's important.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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