California has long been viewed by the rest of the nation as leader in many areas, including education. The state’s K-12 and higher education systems were once the envy of other states. Of late, though, the news from the Golden State has not been so rosy. For the last three decades California has faced increased demands on public services while suffering through economic cycles that have had exaggerated effects on the state budget. The result has been increased competition for limited resources, budget uncertainty and steadily eroding state dollars for a local schools. At the same time, demands on schools to produce better educated students have increased. In 1999 the state introduced its own standard-based accountability system (the Public Schools Accountability Act), which was then overlaid by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. As expectations for students and schools have risen, however, and budgets have fluctuated wildly, relatively little systemic education reform has taken place. California faces major challenges that the state seems unable to tackle.
Given this backdrop, how does the public view California’s schools and education policy effectiveness? Do voters understand the challenges that California faces, and are they prepared to make the tough choices and tradeoffs that potential solutions entail? This brief presents the findings from recent polling directed by Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) and the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, and conducted by M4 Strategies/Tulchin Research. The PACE/USC Rossier poll is a new attempt to learn in more detail about how Californians perceive and understand the challenges now facing California’s education system.