Education Next Poll: College Funding, School Choice, and Teacher Pay in Missouri

 
 
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Public Opinion on Education

On Tuesday of this week Education Next released the findings of its 13th annual public opinion survey on education. The poll was administered in May to a nationally representative sample of 3,046 adults, including teachers. For the first time, EdNext also surveyed 415 high-school students and their parents.

 EdNext reports these key findings:

  • Support for increasing teacher pay is higher now than at any point since 2008.

  • A majority of the public favors more federal funding for local schools. 

  • Three in five respondents support free college. 

  • Support for school vouchers has shifted upward. 

  • Tax-credit scholarships along the lines proposed by the current administration are now supported by 58% of respondents 

 Analyses from other organizations have also highlighted increased support for higher teacher pay and certain school choice policies.* 

 Below we take a brief look at the survey results and examine how nationwide public opinion, particularly on the issues of college funding, school choice, and teacher pay, compares with bills considered during Missouri's 2019 legislative session and the findings of a recent survey of Missouri teachers. 

 College Funding

The EdNext survey asked for opinions on making college free and whether undocumented students should be eligible for in-state tuition. Overall, there is strong support for free public college, while opinions on in-state tuition for undocumented students are evenly divided and fall along party lines. 

Results of the poll show that three out of five American adults now support the idea of free public college. Unsurprisingly, support for free four-year college is even higher among high-school students (77 percent) and their parents (68 percent).

 The idea of free two-year college has support in Missouri, despite the partisan divide on the issue nationwide. Republicans outnumber Democrats almost three to one in the Missouri legislature, but Missourians continue to fund the A+ Scholarship program. The A+ program was established in 1993 and has been expanded steadily since then. It is designed to reimburse students for tuition and fees not covered by federal financial assistance, such as the Pell grant, at participating public community colleges or vocational or technical schools. This spring, the legislature passed a bill expanding the program to students earning dual credit in high school.

 One of the most significant debates around Missouri’s 2019 higher education bill focused on funding for undocumented students. Appropriations to public institutions of higher education included language restricting institutions from charging in-state tuition to students with “unlawful immigration status” and says those students must be charged the tuition rate of international students. In addition, the bill prohibits scholarship funds from being given to students with what it describes as “unlawful immigration status in the United States.” Missouri is consistent with the rest of the country on this issue. According to the EdNext survey findings, Americans are split down the middle on this issue, and opinions are strongly divided along party lines.

School Choice

The EdNext survey asked about four different school choice policies: targeted vouchers (for low-income students), universal vouchers (for all students), scholarship tax credits, and charter schools. Overall, there’s increasing support for these school-choice policies, yet persistent divisions across party lines. 

 Since 2016, overall support of scholarship tax credits has increased to nearly 3 out 5  respondents (58 percent). Given the recent push for a federal tax credit program, it should come as no surprise that support for scholarship tax credits among Republicans increased by sixteen percentage points under the current administration. Increased support among Republicans has not led to polarization, as over half of Democrats continue to support the proposal. 

 More than half of Republican voters polled were likely to support a universal voucher initiative, scholarship tax credits, and charter schools, though less than half of Republican voters support targeted voucher programs for low-income students. EdNext does not use the word “voucher” in its polling, perhaps because past polls have shown that the wording of questions matters a great deal and that the concept of vouchers is thought of more favorably when described without using such controversial language. Overall, 55 percent of American adults support the idea of universal vouchers, up from 45 percent in 2016.

 In Missouri, three bills creating a "Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program” were filed this year: HB 34, HB 478, and SB 160. The Missouri ESA Program combined the principles of scholarship donor tax credits with education savings accounts managed by parents. Supporters see the scholarship program as a tool of empowerment for parents that gives their children access to different educational opportunities. Opponents such as the Missouri State Teachers Association and the Missouri National Education Association say the scholarship program will divert money from public schools and allow it to go to private schools that do not have to meet all of the same requirements as public schools. Nationwide 49 percent of teachers support tax credits (39 percent oppose), but only 37 percent support universal vouchers (59 percent oppose). None of the ESA bills made it out of committee during this session, but we expect to see similar bills filed again in the future. 

 EdNext poll results show that support for charter schools has rebounded from the low point in 2017 when support for charter schools had plummeted to 39 percent from 51 percent in 2016. However, opposition to charters has increased since 2016 as well, as fewer respondents are neutral on the issue. There is currently a 21 percentage point split in support between Republicans (61 percent) and Democrats (40 percent). There is also a divide within the Democratic party, as only 33 percent of white Democrats favor charters, while 55 percent of African American and 47 percent of Hispanic Democrats support them. Nationwide, 32 percent of public charter school students are white, 26 percent are African American, and 33 percent are Hispanic.

 Here in Missouri, SB 292, the only charter school bill to make it to a floor debate this session, would have allowed for charter school expansion in the state. Opposition has come from both sides of the aisle. Opponents expressed concerns about the performance of Missouri's current charter schools and lost revenue to traditional school districts.

Teacher Pay

EdNext found increased support for higher teacher pay over the past year among both Democrats (59 to 64 percent) and Republicans (38 to 43 percent), and 76 percent of teachers agree that they should be paid more. Nationwide, teachers continue to advocate for higher pay. One-third of surveyed Tennessee teachers said they would leave the teaching profession for higher-paying jobs if they could, and teachers in Clark County (Las Vegas) and Chicago are both positioned to strike next month if their demands are not met through contract negotiations. 

A recent survey of Missouri teachers looked at the top reasons teachers quit. Twenty percent of those who have considered leaving the profession listed pay as the top reason, followed by administration/leadership (15 percent). Twenty percent of those who know another teacher who recently left the profession suggested that pay was the main reason. Over 30 percent of administrators surveyed perceived pay as the number one reason why teachers quit and 40 percent said low pay is the greatest challenge in recruiting high-quality teachers. The average salary for all teachers in Missouri is $48,293, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. EdNext poll results show that 56 percent of adults who are given information about the average teacher salary in their state support a pay increase (up from 49 percent in 2018). Seventy-two percent of those who are not provided with this information support the general idea of higher pay for teachers.

Conclusion

Public opinion expressed on surveys does not always translate to the ballot box. With that said, the shift in public opinion toward increasing teacher pay does match a nationwide legislative trend in the same direction, fueled by a recent wave of teacher strikes demanding a restoration of recession-era funding cuts. Time will tell if public support for certain school choice policies such as scholarship tax credits will also lead to changes in state laws. Nationwide poll results would seem to suggest that a tax credit program without the voucher-style component may find more support. So far school choice policies supported by Republicans nationwide have been less successful in Missouri. With regard to free college, Missouri has already shown its commitment to funding two-year programs, and it may be that in the future public four-year programs will be free for students as well. The Show-Me State continues to chart its own path.
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*See: Chalkbeat, The 74 Million, and Education Week

 

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