Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

Contact: Joe King, Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

March 22, 2004

NIU survey finds state worried about education funding

 

DeKALB -- Illinois residents are concerned that the quality of K-12 education is slipping, and they believe the state should be spending more to fix it, according to the most recent edition of the Illinois Policy Survey.

 

“No other topic in the survey attracted the sort of strong, across the board support that we saw for increased spending on K-12 education,” said Professor Michael Peddle of Northern Illinois University, who oversaw the survey.

 

The survey, which polled more than 1,200 Illinois residents over the age of 18, found that 75 percent of respondents favored increasing state spending on education. “That support crossed all lines – geographic, gender, age, political affiliation, race and income,” Peddle noted. It also outpaced the desire for increased spending in other prominent areas such as medical care (62 percent) job training for the unemployed (57 percent) and assistance for low income families (54 percent).

 

The support for increased spending on education comes at a time when respondents’ opinions of the quality of public schools are eroding. Only 34 percent of respondents rated Illinois public schools as excellent or good (the lowest level in a decade), while 25 percent rated them poor or very poor. As recently as 2000, 54 percent of respondents rated schools as excellent or good, and only 12 percent rated them as poor or very poor.

 

As has been the case throughout the history of the survey, which has been conducted annually since 1984, respondents were a bit more positive about schools in their own communities. However, the perception of quality has been deteriorating there too. Local schools received ratings of good or excellent from 53 percent of respondents, while 22 percent rated them poor or very poor. Much like the perceptions of schools at large, those ratings have declined over the last four years. In 2000, 65 percent of respondents considered schools good or excellent, and only 14 percent rated them poorly.

 

“In 2000, the economy was reaching a peak and people felt positive about most things,” Peddle explains. “As the economy headed into recession in 2001, those feelings changed; and by 2002 and 2003, people could actually see the impact of the flagging economy and funding cuts on schools – larger class sizes, fewer class offerings and teachers being cut. Those things are influencing their perception of quality. This helps to explain the continuing strong support for increased spending on public schools.”

 

The focus on money was confirmed when respondents were asked an open ended question about the biggest problem facing schools: 48 percent said funding. That was more than three times as many as the second highest answer, which was teachers, but responses in that category included the valuation quality and availability of teachers. Other problems, like safety and discipline, quality, and administration were mentioned by fewer than 10 percent of respondents.

 

“Studying those responses about funding, people were not saying that the schools don’t spend wisely. Rather, the themes that emerged were a lack of money from the state, too much reliance on local property tax to fund schools and displeasure over cuts in school programs due to lost funding,” says Peddle.

 

Despite dissatisfaction with the current funding of schools, there seems to be no groundswell of support to change that system, Peddle says.

 

One change in funding being discussed by legislators and school officials is the idea of shifting some of the funding burden for schools from property taxes to income taxes. The survey found that about 55 percent of Illinois residents favor such a change. Of those, 48 percent favored the idea even if it meant their own local schools lost some funding as a result. It is a majority, but far from a mandate.

 

“Those questions have been asked in various forms over the years and, regardless of the economic times or the general feeling about school quality, it is typically about a 50-50 split. Although, the tougher the economic times, the less willing people are to see their district lose any funding,” Peddle said. “People are very set in their opinions about taxes, and I think there is some fear that shifting the funding away from property taxes may mean less control over local schools.”

 

Evidence of that was found in the last primary election when nearly half (46 percent) of all school referenda on the ballot were approved by voters, the strongest showing for school referenda in Illinois in several years.

 

“I think that speaks to the depth of people’s belief that the schools are legitimately strapped for cash. Especially since they voted to approve nearly half of the referenda at a time when the general mood of the state is not very good (only 37 percent said they were satisfied “with the way things are going”) and nearly a quarter (23 percent) say they are worse off financially than a year ago.”

           

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The 2004 Illinois Policy Survey was conducted between mid-November 2003 and mid-January 2004. The findings of the survey represent responses from 1,262 men and women, 18 or older, who were interviewed by telephone. The survey has a 95 percent confidence interval of + 3, meaning there is a 95 percent likelihood the population percentage will fall within 3 percentage points of the sample percentage.