Marylanders back spending more on school safety, career education, but less support for pre-K and teacher pay

By Len Lazarick

Marylanders support spending more money on school safety and career and technical education, according to a new statewide poll. But they are less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten or paying teachers more if those initiatives mean higher taxes or reductions in other services.

They also do not believe politicians who say casino revenues will be dedicated solely to education aid, as promised by a constitutional amendment the legislature just put on the November ballot.

Those are some of the results of a new statewide poll of 600 voters by Burton Research and Strategies paid for by Maryland Public Policy Institute, a free-market think-tank.

“The survey findings cast doubt on several sweeping proposals offered by the state’s closely-watched education reform commission, known as the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in [Education],” said pollster Jim Burton, whose firm has done work for many Republican candidates.

The survey found that 72% of the respondents agreed with the statement: “To improve learning opportunities in public schools, policymakers should refocus on reallocating resources more efficiently and effectively, instead of continuously increasing the education budget.” There was strong agreement with the statement by 42% of respondents.

However, increasing teacher pay and reducing class size top the list when the respondents were asked: “What one or two items from the following list do you think elected officials in the state should address to improve the quality of education in Maryland’s public schools?”

Thirty-eight percent of Marylanders say increasing teacher pay is their first or second choice for improving education in Maryland, while 28 percent say reducing class sizes.

Broad majorities oppose paying more in income or property taxes to expand pre-K. Voters are against making cuts to roads and transportation (70% total less likely), public safety (70% total less likely), or children’s health insurance (77% total less likely) to afford an expansion of pre-k education.

The Kirwan commission has not completed its final recommendations but it did issue a preliminary report in January. Here is a full copy of the report.

The commission has reached consensus on expanding career and technical education, on making pre-kindergarten available to everyone, and on increasing teacher pay, as well as changing teacher training and establishing a career ladder for teachers.

It has not put a price tag on any of its proposals, nor established what they will cost or who should pay. But their recommendations are expected to cost billions more than in current formulas.

“The poll demonstrates that Marylanders believe in providing a great education, but not with a blank check,” said Christopher B. Summers, president and chief executive officer of the Institute. “We encourage policymakers to consider the sentiments expressed in this poll any time they are faced with a new idea to expand government’s presence in the classroom.”

The telephones survey was conducted in early March with respondents contacted by landlines (70%) and cell phones (30%). It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.