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Education's Biggest Problem Is a Lack of Money, Many Americans Agree

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Twenty-five percent of respondents to a recent national poll identified "a lack of financial support" as one of the biggest problems facing public schools in their communities.

Money—or the lack of it—has been the most common response to the question on the annual PDK International Poll about public attitudes toward education for 18 years running, outranking other factors like drugs, violence, or a lack of student discipline, 

The poll has asked the question for decades, allowing respondents to pick up to three answers from a page of options that includes everything from teachers unions to student nutrition to poor curriculum. In 2019, financial support was the only answer to see a double-digit response rate.

Looking back at the most popular answers over time shows some interesting trends:

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"The shifts over time are striking," says PDK's report on the poll results. "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%."

The findings follow waves of teacher activism—from strikes and classroom walkouts to rallyies at statehouses—to push for more state funding, salary increases, and other policy changes.

But the devil is in the details.

While many of those demonstrations saw broad support, the public hasn't always put its money where its mouth is. In Los Angeles, for example, voters struck down a ballot measure that would have helped pay for changes teachers won through strikes in the nation's second-largest school district.

In the poll, 41 percent of all adult respondents and 75 percent of teachers said a political candidate's position on school funding is "highly important" to them.

"That said, many fewer in each group say it's 'extremely" important, potentially limiting its effect on voting," PDK says.

Where should that additional financial support come from? Seven in 10 adults and six in 10 teachers responding to the poll said they would rather see cuts in other government-funded services than tax increases. 

And, in keeping with other trends, Democrats were more likely to see a correlation between funding and school quality than Republicans.

Images: Getty, 2019 PDK Poll

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