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Californians support spending budget surplus on preschool, new poll shows

Californians care a lot about preschool, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Released Thursday, results show residents statewide believe preschool education matters to educational success in later grades and that the state should provide preschool to all 4-year-olds.

For its 12th annual survey on Californians and education, researchers at the PPIC called 1,703 people statewide and asked a set of questions about education and spending. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish between April 3 and April 12, 2016.

Pollsters found almost 68 percent believe preschool participation is “very important” to children succeeding in higher grades and 21 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Support for preschool was highest in Los Angeles, with 76 percent support. This compares to 64 percent in the Bay Area.

The poll reported that 87 percent of Latinos believe preschool is important to future school success, while among whites, support was lower at 59 percent.

Percentage of poll respondents who said they believed preschool to be very important to a child's future academic success.
Percentage of poll respondents who said they believed preschool to be very important to a child's future academic success.

The cost of preschool, which has recently been found to exceed that of public college in California, was also of concern to a majority of Californians, according to poll results. While 74 percent of respondents saw affordability as a problem, only 56 percent thought quality of preschool was an issue.

African Americans were most worried that children in low income areas would not be prepared for kindergarten, with 66 percent of blacks saying they were concerned compared to 41 percent of whites.

When asked if public dollars should be spent educating 4-year-olds statewide, 76 percent said yes. In fact, 63 percent agreed that some of the state’s budget surplus should be spent on early childhood programs while 34 percent wanted to use that money to pay down the state’s debt.

"There are a lot of demands on the state budget and the fact that preschool ranks so high in people's minds in terms of funding and importance is impressive," said Mark Baldassare, president and chief executive officer of PPIC.

There was a predictable partisan divide on the issues. When asked about the need for government funded preschool, Democrats and independents overwhelmingly agreed, while just 44 percent of Republicans were in support. In response to a question around spending priorities, 71 percent of Republicans preferred to use the surplus to pay down the debt and 71 percent of Democrats wanted the extra money to be used for preschool.

Given the results, it may seem that everyone polled is a parent of a young child, yet almost half of all respondents had no children under 18 living in their home.

Other significant results from the poll include that 76 percent of respondents saying they would vote yes on a November ballot measure that would pay for school construction projects. Separately, 64 percent said they would agree with extending the Proposition 30 tax increase on the wealthy to fund education and healthcare.