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What people who (mostly) don’t have kids in the schools think about the schools

In addition to their horse race survey, the UT/Texas Trib poll asked some questions about the state of public education in Texas. There’s a lot in the poll, ranging from confidence levels in the public schools (not so good) to opinions about curriculum and the SBOE to questions about what the biggest problems the schools face are. But way at the end was this bit of information:

Answering questions about themselves, 67 percent of those polled say they don’t have children at home. The next biggest group — 28 percent — say their offspring attend public schools, while the rest attend private schools or are schooled at home.

So the majority of respondents likely had little or no connection to or stake in public schools, other than as taxpayers. I inquired with James Henson about the crosstabs of this poll, and unfortunately they did not break things down by who did or did not have children in a public school. We do have quite a bit of other crosstab information, though, which you can see here. For example, scroll down to pages 120 and 166 for the confidence-in-the-schools question. (This is in two pieces because it was a split sample, with the question being asked to half of the people before some other questions, and half after, to see if there was a difference in the responses; there was not.)

I was initially suspicious that the sample would be older, whiter, and more conservative than perhaps would be representative, and that this in turn might skew questions like that. Those suspicions were partially borne out, in that some 63% of respondents were white, with about 12% African-American and 19% Latino. That’s a fairly accurate picture of the likely voting population, but based on everything we know about Texas demography, it’s nowhere close to a reflection of the public school population. Having said that, and with the caveat that the subsamples are too small for any firm conclusions to be drawn, the confidence levels in the public schools were pretty close to the same across racial lines. As such, I cannot say that a sample that’s more representative of the public school population would have answered this question any differently.

That doesn’t mean there were no differences. One place where I found some was in the question about funding level for schools. African-Americans (74.0%) and Latinos (62.9%) were much more likely to call funding for schools a “major problem” than whites (46.8%) were. (Those numbers are on page 190). The same disparities show up in their seven-point ideological and partisan spectra. 54% of people from “Extremely liberal” to “In the middle” called funding a “major problem”, while only 43% of those to the right of the middle did so, which frankly is more than I would have expected. Similarly, funding was a major problem for 53% of Democrats but only 44% of Republicans, which again is more than I would have expected. Too bad these Republicans don’t vote for more candidates who actually want to address that problem.

Anyway. Regardless of whether or not there’s a difference in perception of the public schools between those who have kids in them and those who don’t, the numbers here represent what voters tend to think, and some of their answers present a political problem for those who want to improve the schools. Funding is identified as a problem by a fairly decent number of people, but there’s far from a consensus on what to do about it. That’s a scenario for stopgaps, patches, and kicking the can down the road. If finding a real fix to the funding problem is not a priority for the voters, it won’t be one for the Lege. Well, at least not until the courts force the issue again.

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  1. […] none of this invalidates the poll result. The numbers are what they are, and as I noted before, the sample is quite close to historical norms for demographics of the voting population, and that […]