More Missourians dissatisfied with public education, latest poll shows

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A school bus makes a stop in Columbia, Mo. Missouri Independent File Photo

A recent survey found growing displeasure with Missouri schools.

A majority of respondents — 56% — rated their local schools as only fair or poor, and 71% said that about public schools generally in the state, according to SLU You/Gov poll results released Tuesday. 

More of the voters surveyed also said that charter schools — small public schools operated independently of the local distinct — should be allowed in their district, and 55% said they should be allowed statewide.

The poll happens about every six months, weighing voters’ opinions on both politicians and the big issues at the time. Poll director Steven Rogers noted a trend in perspectives on public education since the first one conducted in the early days of the pandemic.

“People have been more disapproving or rating them more poorly,” he said.

Among subgroups listed in the poll results, the highest negative ratings about local schools were from adults 30-44 and most likely to have children of school age, at 65% rating schools fair or poor. Black Missourians, at 73%, Democrats, at 63%, and residents of northwest Missouri, at 66%, also had high negative ratings for their local schools.

The highest favorable ratings for local schools came from Republicans, with 48% rating them good or excellent, and southeast Missouri, where 46% said their schools are good or excellent.

The highest negative ratings about schools generally in Missouri were from young people 18-29, recently out of the education system, at 79%, Black Missourians, 86%, Democrats, 80%, and residents of northwest Missouri, also at 80%. The highest favorable ratings for schools statewide came from Republicans, with 36% rating them good or excellent, and southeast Missouri, where 39% said schools across the state are good or excellent.

The only subgroup where opposition to charter schools equals or exceeds support either for local districts or statewide is among Democrats when asked about local charter schools. Even then, the respondents were split, with 33% supporting local charter schools, 33% opposed and 34% unsure.

Results show a majority believe there is a shortage of teachers, that four-fifths of respondents think teachers should be paid more — but that only 35% would recommend teaching as a profession. There is no subgroup that doesn’t view teacher shortages as a problem. And only two subgroups, people age 18-29 and Democrats, where more respondents said they would recommend teaching as a career than not.

The findings “are completely depressing, but they are accurate,” said state Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood. “As a former teacher, I am sad that people don’t want to go into education. But look at what is happening. They aren’t paid well. And they get an egregious amount of backlash.”

Lawmakers approved state funding to raise minimum teacher salaries to $38,000 but have not changed the law mandating only a $25,000 minimum as recommended by a blue ribbon commission appointed by the State Board of Education.

Charter schools are not a panacea to education problems, Brown said. They serve only a small number of the state’s 900,000 schoolchildren, she pointed out, and must support a separate administration from school districts.

So far, she said, testing does not show significant differences in achievement in charter schools over traditional public schools.

“If most people really knew the ins and outs of charter schools, I wonder if they would answer the same way,” Brown said. 

Mark Jones, spokesman for the Missouri National Education Association, said he questions the SLU You/Gov results for local school ratings. NEA polling shows better results for local schools, he said, and elections indicate people have confidence in their districts.

“What we always tend to see in polling is that folks rate their local schools very high, and then when you ask about the entire state, that is more detached,” Jones said. “And at the ballot boxes, voters are passing taxes and levies to support students, even though the state is failing to increase funding.”

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