It’s Possible America Doesn’t Actually Know What It Wants

By now I’ve seen a dozen or more polls like this one that show popular support for federal education spending exceeding support for other popular and well-known federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare. Often, as in this case, it’s number one, ahead of everything else.

But I wonder if the poll questions lead to results that overstate the actual popular support for federal education programs.

For example, how often are those who are polled told that federal education spending typically accounts for only about 10% of education funding in their school district, (and possibly less). Would they feel as strongly about protecting this funding knowing that it represents a relatively small amount of their school’s overall budget?

If they were given the names/purposes of specific federal education programs, would those poll as well, especially if people had no direct experience with those programs?

And obviously, it would be interesting to see the responses to these questions broken out by age group. I probably felt a lot less strongly about Medicare than I did about education when I was in my twenties. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have told you what Medicare was when I was in my twenties.)

Also discouraging: this same Pew Research Center poll that shows broad support for education also has “aid to needy” coming in dead last, by a pretty significant margin. Low-income children receive 70% of federal education money.

In other words, I wonder whether the positive poll numbers in support of education generally might mislead advocates into thinking there is greater support for specific federal education programs than there actually is—particularly those programs that low-income families depend on. (Of course, there may be some polling out there that I haven’t seen that does attempt to drill down a bit more on this issue.)

Poll: 60% of Americans Say Balancing Federal Budget More Important Than Improving Quality of Education

In a recent Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll, (as reported in Education Week) a majority of respondents (60%) said that balancing the federal budget was more important than improving the quality of education, “even though they said funding [was] the biggest problem facing public schools.”

The deficit issue gets a lot of attention in the media, so it would not surprise me if it’s true that many people fear the budget deficit to the point where they are willing to sacrifice federal investments in public education to reduce it. While it’s not actually necessary to sacrifice those investments any further in order to do so, it would also not surprise me to learn that it is a widely shared belief that deficit reduction must involve sacrifices  in every area of federal spending—even among people who are not, in general, hostile to a federal role in education, or to education spending in general.

These are a big hurdles for education advocates to overcome.

More on the poll in Education WeekPDK/Gallup Poll Offers Glimpse into Americans Views of Public Education – K-12 Talent Manager – Education Week.

h/t Committee for Education Funding for the pointer to the article