Supporting What Matters: As Schools Reconvene, Will Congress Support Public Education, Mirroring Public Opinion?


Guest blog post by AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech

The end of summer means the start to another school year. It means time for this year’s annual PDK poll. Each year, for the last 49 years, PDK has polled the public’s attitudes toward public schools, and each year, the results are a telling insight into shifts and mainstays as it relates to public support for public schools. This year is no exception.

When it comes to our nation’s schools, the overarching message from the public remains steady: academic achievement isn’t the only mission, and as such they support investments in career preparation and personal skills. Much like the shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was about clarifying that a child is more than a test score, this year’s results echo the idea that a child’s education is more than just academics.

This summer, AASA launched its ‘I Love Public Education’ campaign, a year-long effort to highlight why public schools are essential to developing the future generations that will maintain our country’s status as a world leader. The campaign is designed to facilitate deliberate conversations and strong, meaningful actions on the efforts to bolster our schools to best support the students they serve. We are working to reshape the current national dialogue on public education to highlight the critical role public schools play as the bedrock of our civic society and their work to prepare students to be successful, contributing members of their local, national and global communities. It’s a campaign central to our work supporting public school superintendents, and it is in strong parallel to a big takeaway from the annual poll, that parents’ main concern remains wanting to ensure their children are prepared for life after they complete high school.

The public continues to support public schools. We are all too familiar with the quick-draw that negative headlines garner for public schools. But, as the PDK poll has long documented, people support and give good grades to the schools they know. And this year? The proportion of Americans who gave their community’s public schools an A grade is at its highest point in more than 40 years of PDK polling: 15 percent of Americans gave their local schools an A, up from 9 percent a decade ago. In tandem with increased support:

  • 49 percent of Americans gave their local public schools an A or B grade, matching the average since 1999;
  • 22 percent of Americans refer to a lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools;
  • Americans continue to oppose rather than favor using public funds to send students to private school (52 percent to 39 percent), and opposition rises to 61 percent when the issue is discussed with more nuance/detail.

School isn’t the only thing that gets back to session in September. This support for public education will prove critical as Congress returns from their summer work session (sometimes called ‘recess’). With less than 50 work days remaining in the year, there is a lot on their plate. They must address the annual appropriations process and avoid a shutdown, and there is a very good chance they will have to navigate the debt ceiling debate. How can Congress invest funding in the career preparation and personal skills of students when the current funding caps are so low—below 2010 levels? Despite the public’s documented support for public schools and non-academic programming, Congress is considering eliminating ESSA Title II and deep cuts to more than a dozen other programs. Layer that on top of an administration that has prioritized investment in privatization and voucher programs—at direct odds with public opinion—and you can see how important the ‘I Love Public Education’ campaign becomes in ensuring that the voices and priorities of the public, and the public schools, are reflected in federal policy.

You can access my full statement on the release of the PDK poll.