Poll: Parents OK With Newsom’s K-12 Approach Despite Continued School Closures

Over 80% of public school parents in California say kids are falling behind academically yet most approve of how Governor Gavin Newsom and local districts have traversed the pandemic.

Residents of East Los Angeles stand in line and wait in their cars to collect food donations outside James A. Garfield High School as part of the school district’s effort to support families struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California parents overwhelmingly agree children are falling behind due to school closures yet a majority in a new statewide survey say they approve of how Governor Gavin Newsom and local districts have managed education during the pandemic.  

According to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Wednesday, 64% of public school parents support Newsom’s handling of K-12 education while 72% are satisfied with how their local districts have conducted school shutdowns. Overall, 83% feel California children are lagging academically due to the pandemic.

The findings come as most of the state’s largest public school districts have yet to fully reopen more than a year after closing despite ample funding, and with Newsom facing a recall election ostensibly over his handling of the Covid crisis.

Continuing a trend of recent hyper-partisan statewide polls, over 80% of Democratic respondents said they approve of Newsom’s K-12 performance compared to 18% of Republicans. Furthermore, 71% of Democrats say the school system is going in the right direction — and just 24% of Republicans say the same.  

The poll revealed more positive news for Newsom as 56% said they approve of how he’s handling jobs and the economy. The numbers jump to 84% and 52% among Democrats and independents, but just 17% for Republicans.

The glaring partisan divide when it comes to the job Newsom has done with schools and the economy matches up with his recent overall approval numbers.

In last month’s PPIC poll, the Democratic governor registered a 53% approval rating. Just 40% said they would vote to remove Newsom in a recall election.  

PPIC President Mark Baldassare says the recent surveys suggest the level of voter dissatisfaction with Newsom is ample enough to fuel the likely recall, but not high enough to remove him from office.  

This week, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced recall proponents had collected enough valid signatures to trigger a recall this fall.

“Covid-related decisions affecting California’s K–12 public schools and the economy have been among the most vexing issues faced by state officials in the past year,” Baldassare wrote in an accompanying blog. “But voter discontent with schools and the economy falls short of the majority needed to remove the governor from office — and reflects the hyper-partisanship in this blue state.”

Figuring out how to convince the state’s over 1,100 school districts to ditch distance learning and bring kids back into the classroom has been problematic to say the least for Newsom and state officials.

Confronted with the largest deficit in state history, Newsom and lawmakers last summer were forced to slash billions from the K-12 education system in order to balance the state’s 2020-21 budget. School districts warned the across-the-board cuts were coming at the worst time as educators had taken on unprecedented loads with distance learning.

By winter, millions of students remained at home while most districts had yet to even compile reopening plans.

To break the stalemate, Newsom proposed lawmakers offer districts billions in exchange for reopening. Lawmakers initially rejected the carrot-and-stick approach yet came around last month and approved a $6.6 billion education package that incentivizes districts to reopen.

Nearly two months laterand despite a dramatic drop in Covid-19 infections statewide, a state database indicates scores of districts remain closed or are operating on a limited schedule.

Nonetheless, most parents polled by the PPIC aren’t panicking despite California’s shaky education relaunch.

With the end of the bizarre school year approaching, 50% of parents gave their local grade school either an A or B grade, and 71% said the schools were doing an excellent or good job of preparing students for college. As for teachers, 59% of parents said they deserved raises while 11% said salaries were already too high.

Despite the good marks, parents still have doubts as to whether districts will be able to fully reopen by next school year.

Over 65% of parents told the PPIC they are concerned public schools won’t be open for full-time, in-person instruction in the fall and 42% said they would send their kids to private school instead if cost weren’t an issue.

Still months away from the potential recall election, Baldassare notes Newsom’s polling numbers appear strong enough to survive. But that could change if the economy doesn’t turn around or if schools don’t cooperate with his reopening plans.

“If progress containing the virus backslides before the likely fall recall election — placing the reopening of schools and the economy in jeopardy — voters’ approval of the governor and support for keeping him in office could slip,” he said. “PPIC will keep a watchful eye on public opinion on leading indicators of political fortunes — including Covid-19, schools, and the economy — in the months ahead.”

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