68% of voters in swing states believe that improving public education should be a top priority for the next president, yet only 36% have heard the current Republican and Democratic candidates discuss the issue in the current campaign. That stark difference on the importance versus prominence of public education as an issue is contained in a new poll of 1200 likely swing state voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Communities In Schools (CIS), the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization which helps low-income students overcome their non-academic barriers to learning.
The poll, the first in-depth examination of public education as an issue in the context of the presidential campaign, was conducted October 27 to November 2 and has a margin of error of +\- 2.8%.
Voters polled in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina, placed improving K -12 public education in the top four among domestic priorities – narrowly surpassing other issues including immigration reform, healthcare reform and entitlement reform. However, when asked whether they’ve heard any of the major candidates for President - Republicans or Democrats - talk about domestic issues – the issue of “improving K-12 public education” ranked dead last.
“There is a wide opening for a candidate of either party to take leadership on the important issue of K-12 public education,” said Robert Blizzard, partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “While the media and pundits are focused on colorful candidates, ‘gotcha’ debates and who’s up and down in daily polls, it’s clear the voters who will ultimately decide who is our next president want a candidate who can talk about K-12 public education along with other important domestic issues.”
Blizzard noted that equity in public education was of great concern to swing state voters. Fully three-quarters of swing voters (76%) believe it should be a top priority to “make sure all children in my community have an equal opportunity to get a good education, no matter their economic circumstances.” That concern was shared by a majority of Republicans (67%), Independents (77%) and Democrats (84%)
But while swing voters see equity as a key goal for public education, they also regard poverty as the major barrier to achieving that goal.
By a 63%-30% margin, voters in key 2016 battleground states believe that the poverty level of students is a barrier to learning in schools. That belief was strongly shared by non-minority women (61%-30%), independent voters (59%-32%), and Hispanics (81%-17%), who said that poverty is a serious problem in schools.
“The data backs it up, we’re seeing it in the classroom and now voters have called the impact of student poverty on public education one of the major issues in the upcoming election,” said Communities In Schools President Dan Cardinali. “We can debate the common core, charter schools, tenure reform and teacher accountability, but there is no room to debate the fact that voters want to hear policymakers talk about poverty and public education and they want leadership on this issue.”
Cardinali said poverty was linked to the other public education problems highlighted by swing state voters including lack of parental involvement, absenteeism, disruptive students and student dropouts. They are among the non-academic issues that Communities In Schools works to address for nearly 1.5 million students each year.
Swing state voters were also asked to rate whether Democrats or Republicans would do a better job of handling public education issues including:
Working directly in more than 2,300 schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools is the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization proven to keep students in school and on the path to graduation. For the 2015-2016 school year, Communities In Schools served nearly 1.5 million students and successfully helped 99 percent of our case-managed students stay in school.