- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Americans are opposed to any funding cuts in education and will vote against elected officials who cut support for public schools, according to a public opinion poll released yesterday.
More than half of those surveyed listed education and schools as two priorities the government needs to protect from spending cuts, and nearly two-thirds said a candidate's stance on education is one of the most important factors influencing their vote, the poll shows.
The poll "Accountability for All: What Voters Want From Education Candidates" was conducted in January by the Public Education Network (PEN) and Education Week. The poll surveyed 1,050 persons nationwide.
"The nation has made a national commitment to hold every student and every school accountable for measurable improvements in learning," said Wendy Puriefoy, PEN's president.
"Now voters say it is time to hold politicians accountable for providing resources and delivering results. Make no mistake: politicians who fail to match education rhetoric with real commitment risk earning a failing grade in November."
Education ranks second to the economy and jobs on the public's list of most serious concerns and out-polls terrorism and security, and the war in Afghanistan, when people were asked to rank the national issues that concerned them the most.
Ninety-two percent of those surveyed said they believe that quality education for all children is a national priority, and 78 percent said that all communities should have quality public schools.
"It's clear that Americans want education to be recession-proof," Ms. Puriefoy said.
Specifically, those polled said they want early-childhood education, smaller class sizes, teacher training, and teacher salaries to be guarded against cuts. However, they are less concerned about school facilities, after-school programs and the arts.
Another 5 percent also believe that providing taxpayer money for private school options will improve the quality of education, the poll shows.
Public officials in about 40 states are now struggling with significant budget shortfalls that PEN says threaten to reduce state funding for schools by $10 billion nationwide.
With local, state and federal campaigns heating up, those surveyed said they have clear ideas on what education candidates should be doing, and how elected officials will be held accountable.
Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, said a candidate's stance on education is one of the most important factors influencing their vote. Eighty-eight percent said they support candidates who believe that education decisions are best made by parents, teachers and principals, and 86 percent said they favor candidates who promise to protect education from budget cuts.
"If public education is freedom's classroom, voting is democracy's test," said Virginia Edwards, editor and publisher of Education Week. "The public believes it has a bigger role to play in improving the quality of schools by becoming more informed and more politically engaged. This report helps sort out the legitimate education candidates from the pretenders."
Less than 40 percent, however, will not support candidates who suggest programs without talking about how to fund or implement them, who support vouchers for private schools, or who favor shifting authority over the public schools away from superintendents and school boards and placing it in the hands of private companies or local city officials.
"In this new era of accountability, candidates will be judged for their education leadership," said James B. Hunt Jr., former North Carolina governor and director of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy in Washington.


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