Most parents claim that they don’t know about the new funding system in California schools but want to get involved in guiding how the funds are spent, according to a new survey by EdSource.
The statewide survey is the first to look at how connected and involved parents are with their children’s schools. It comes at a time when parents have been given a role by the State Legislature to provide input into how state education funds are spent through the Local Control Funding Formula now being implemented in schools across the state. Signed in July by Gov. Jerry Brown, the law also names parent involvement as one of several priority areas that schools must focus on.
The California Endowment underwrote the survey of 1,003 parents, conducted via telephone by the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates Nov. 5-12.
Fifty-seven percent of parents reported knowing “nothing at all” about the new funding formula, compared to 9 percent who said they knew “a great deal” about it, underscoring the challenge school districts and parent organizations face in educating parents about the new reforms.
Once parents were given a brief summary, 75 percent expressed support for the reforms, and one in 10 said he or she opposed them. Three-quarters (76 percent) said they were “very” or “somewhat” involved in their children’s schools, with close to one-third (30 percent) reporting that they were very involved. Most gave favorable ratings – an A or B grade – to their children’s schools, and most reported high levels of communication with them.
“Contrary to popular perceptions of many parents being disengaged from their child’s schools, the fact that parents are already involved in their child’s school, and feel welcome there, presents a good foundation for them to become involved in California’s new funding law,” said EdSource Executive Director Louis Freedberg.
Diversity of opinions
The survey revealed distinct differences between high-income and low-income parents, including:
• Nearly four in 10 parents (39 percent) who reported incomes of $100,000 or more describe themselves as “very involved,” compared with 24 percent of those reporting incomes of $30,000 or less.
• Forty-three percent of parents with incomes higher than $100,000 gave their children’s schools an A, compared with only 25 percent of parents with incomes of under $30,000.
• Thirty-nine percent of low-income parents felt that only a small group of parents had the opportunity to engage in decision-making at their children’s schools, compared with 19 percent of high-income parents.
According to Freedberg, the differences suggest that schools will have to work harder to engage low-income parents – whose children are one of the targets of the new funding legislation – in their schools.
“Because of what we know about the strong link between parent involvement and academic outcomes, it is reassuring that parents from all income levels want to be involved,” he said. “The challenge facing California’s education leaders is how to ensure that all of them have the opportunity to do so.”
Parents cited lack of time and conflicting work schedules as the major obstacles in getting more involved in giving input on how the funds will be spent.
They also said there were several steps schools could take to increase their involvement, including giving plenty of advance notice and assuring them that they would have a meaningful voice in the process. Nearly half said child care at meetings would also make a difference, and a smaller number said transportation and translations from English would help.
Most parents said they participate in a wide range of activities in their children’s schools. A smaller proportion reported that they attend school board meetings (30 percent) or participate in school site councils or other school or district committees (24 percent).
Parents also said they received much of their information about their children’s schools through their children. Other less dominant information sources included conversations with their children’s teachers and school newsletters. As schools develop communication strategies around the school funding law, the importance of children as a major conduit of information cannot be underestimated.
For more information, visit edsource.org.