Education isn’t high on the list when it comes to the most important issues facing Florida, according to a new statewide poll.
Jobs and the economy, heath care, the environment and climate change, and immigration and crime ranked higher than education in the poll of 800 registered voters commissioned by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), a conservative nonprofit founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The poll was conducted between January 23 and 25.
Of the key demographic groups polled, the most affluent group – earning $150,000 or more – ranked education second, following jobs and the economy, in terms of the most important issues. Across all groups, education ranked 6th among the 10 categories surveyed.
Seniors 65 and older ranked immigration, the environment and climate change and health care as the most important issues facing Florida, with education ranking 7th in the 10 categories.
The poll represents a broad picture of education issues, from school finance, education quality and voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools with public dollars.
But with the poll showing education ranking lower than other important issues, the governor, lawmakers in the Republican-led Legislature and advocacy groups could have a tougher time pushing through reforms such as an expansion of voucher programs and increases in school funding for various initiatives.
Of those polled, about 40 percent said lack of funding was the biggest obstacle to improving Florida’s K-12 system. That obstacle was followed by a “standardized one size fits all approach” to education, and then “overcrowded classrooms.”
The poll also asked what grade Florida’s overall K-12 public school system should get — the same way schools get graded by the state with A through F grades. Overall, 44.38-percent of those polled gave the education system a C.
Other questions in the poll relate to school choice – the ability for families to enroll their children in a school that’s not in their neighborhood zone.
Those polled were asked: Generally speaking, do you support giving parents the flexibility to choose where they send their child to school rather than assigning children to schools based on zip code?
About 78 percent of those polled said yes to that question, but the answer varied by demographic group.
For example, about 58 percent of the most affluent group polled answered that question with a yes, lower than other key demographic groups.
Overall, “The vast majority of voters—nearly 80 percent—believe parents should have education choices for their children,” Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd, said in a news release. “Access to opportunity matters, and parents know it.”
In addition, 72 percent of those polled supported expanding so-called Education Scholarship Accounts that can be used for a variety of materials and services, including tutoring, physical therapy and help for students struggling with speech and language.
The accounts can be controversial because public money can be used for private schools and services.