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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hoosiers slightly more pessimistic about school quality in annual survey

State debates may have impact on public perception

January 9, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The results of the fifth annual Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at the Indiana University School of Education find public attitudes are slightly down regarding the overall quality of schools in the state. The survey gauged the attitudes and perceptions of a representative sample of Hoosiers on key educational issues.

Fifty percent of respondents answered that public schools in Indiana are "excellent" or "good," down 5 percentage points since the first survey in 2003. Sixty-one percent of Hoosiers responded that their own local schools are "excellent" or "good," but the number responding that their schools are "excellent" is down 6 percentage points from the 2006 survey. The percentage of respondents who said their local school was "poor" rose 2 percentage points in this year's poll.

Survey co-authors Terry Spradlin and Nathan Burroughs presented their findings to the Indiana State Board of Education during its monthly meeting in Indianapolis this morning. CEEP Director Jonathan Plucker is also a co-author of the report. The new survey asked respondents 25 questions over seven categories: School quality, school funding and taxes, early childhood education initiatives, school choice and charter schools, teacher quality and compensation, familiarity and support of "No Child Left Behind" and Indiana accountability measures, and the achievement gap in Indiana.

Spradlin attributed the slight downturn at least in part to the intense debate over property taxes at the state level. "There was a high level of dissatisfaction in 2007 expressed by homeowners across the state about the sizeable increases in the property tax bills they received," he said. "Public-school spending is viewed as one of the reasons for these increases."

However, Spradlin pointed out that more respondents continued to perceive that public schools in Indiana have gotten better over the last five than those who think the quality of public schools has declined.

In response to the debate over property taxes, the survey authors added a new question for this year's survey, asking respondents about their preferred tax revenue source for funding schools. Only 15 percent prefer property taxes as the primary source of funding. A total of 35 percent prefer funding from income taxes, 29 percent prefer sales taxes as the source, while 22 percent say a combination of tax resources should be used.

Another new question on the 2007 survey revealed a split on the value of school consolidation. While 49 percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the idea that consolidating smaller school corporations will save tax dollars, 43 percent disagreed somewhat or strongly. But when asked whether they would support or oppose consolidating school districts in their community with another district if there was only a slight possibility it would lower their tax burden, 59 percent of Hoosiers said they would oppose such a move.

"These results suggest that such a large-scale consolidation plan, like that proposed by the Local Government Reform Commission, would be met with significant opposition," Plucker observed.

Last month, the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform proposed consolidating school districts with fewer than 2,000 students, which would result in the elimination of nearly 50 percent of the school districts in the state.

Other findings of the 2007 survey:

  • A total of 81percent of respondents support state funding for voluntary pre-school for at-risk children. Despite the wide-spread appeal of such an initiative, Indiana remains one of about 10 states nationally that does not fund a pre-kindergarten program for some or all of its pre-school aged children.
  • Another question revealed an even split on funding full-day kindergarten. The survey asked respondents whether they would support or oppose state funding for full-day kindergarten if a tax increase were necessary, given an estimated annual cost of $200 million. A total of 49 percent said they would support such a tax increase, while a total of 49 percent said they would oppose it. Without a monetary figure added to the question in the 2006 survey, 61 percent said they would support funding, while just 31 percent opposed it. It should be noted that the funding proposal to increase state funding of full-day kindergarten that was passed by the legislature in 2007 did not include a tax increase.
  • A large majority of respondents continue to say they aren't familiar with charter schools -- 60 percent say they are "not very" or "not at all familiar," the same result as 2006. Of those who are familiar with charter schools to some extent, 48 percent support the addition of more charter schools in the state, and 31percent oppose the growth of charter schools.
  • In response to a new question on the 2007 survey, 75 percent oppose the establishment of a charter school where most of the instruction is provided over the internet by a licensed teacher.
  • More Hoosiers know about No Child Left Behind, the federal school accountability act, than ever before. Fifty-four percent say they know "a great deal" or "some" about the law, up from 48 percent in 2006. For the first time, more say it is "hurting" school performance -- 34 percent, up from 23 percent in 2003. The percentage of those who say it is "helping" school performance in Indiana is 32 percent, down from 42 percent in 2003.
  • A total of 64 percent of residents say state lawmakers are not doing enough to close the achievement gap among Indiana students.

The entire report is available at Ed IN 20080108.pdf.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. More about CEEP, including complete reports of the 2007 Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education Issues and the past four public opinion surveys, is available on the CEEP Web site,

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Spradlin says the negative response to the cost associated with full-day kindergarten tied to a tax increase is a message to state government:

"When we asked the general question, 'Would you support full-day kindergarten if a tax increase were necessary to implement it,' 61percent last year said that they would support a tax increase. This year, when we give them the exact amount of what it might cost, only 49 percent say they would support a tax increase.

"However, it must be noted that the legislative proposals and the governor's proposals that have been put on the table to implement full-day kindergarten have not called for a tax increase. So this is a hypothetical question, really, about in the future, if a tax increase were necessary to fully fund this program, would you support it? Again, the legislature's not said that they intend to ask for a tax increase. But if they were, this indicates that it would be pretty split about support publicly for such a tax initiative."

Despite the December recommendation of the Local Government Reform Commission to close around half of Indiana's schools to save tax dollars, Spradlin says the survey found Hoosiers don't like the idea of closing their local schools:

"What this tells us is that really people would fight that locally, that they would not be in favor of such a widespread initiative. And that's reason for reflection and consideration by policy-makers when they see how Hoosiers feel about the issue of consolidation. Maybe they should pause and think more carefully about the Local Government Reform Commission's recommendation."

Spradlin says school funding has often become entangled in the tax debate over the last year, and that's affected public perception:

"One of the associated factors that they often cited was the increase in spending for public education, both for instruction, but also for construction, for school building facilities and equipment. And so schools are often associated with the reasons for the tax increases. So therefore, we do believe there has been some spillover with the hostility about taxation and property taxes in particular with the perceptions about the quality of public education in the state of Indiana."

Spradlin says more people know about No Child Left Behind, but more people don't like it:

"More people for the first time said that they thought the federal accountability system is hurting educational outcomes, rather than helping -- and again, that's the first time in our five-year survey that respondents have felt that way about the federal accountability system. There is growing awareness about the federal accountability system as well. People say they have some, or a great deal of knowledge about that system."