Public schools have become a flashpoint in the culture war in recent years, and that’s likely to continue through this legislative session. School vouchers and library book censorship – two topics that often spark heated debates – are just two of the education-related issues Texas lawmakers will be looking at in the coming months.
But outside of politics, a survey of Texas parents paints a different picture. The Charles Butt Foundation’s 2023 Texas Education Poll found that Texans are largely satisfied about the state of public education, although many cite concerns over school safety and bullying.
Audrey Boklage, Vice President of Learning and Impact, spoke with the Texas Standard about the poll’s findings.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: I suppose we should tell listeners a bit about the Charles Butt Foundation to begin with. What do you do, and how do you conduct this poll in particular?
Audrey Boklage: So at the Charles Butt Foundation on the Learning and Impact Team, we conduct research, including public opinion research that can be used to inform policy, research and practice across the state of Texas. And this particular poll we conducted with Langer Research out of New York – they also conduct the ABC News, Washington Post polls – and we do this to ensure our data quality and highest ethical standards. And we conducted it at the end of 2022, and then we published it at the beginning of this year.
So break down the results for us. How are Texans that you surveyed feeling about the state of public schools overall?
The exciting news out of here: We have seen a reservoir of goodwill for the state’s public schools amongst Texas parents. So 89% of Texas public school parents we’ve heard are satisfied with the quality of education their child is receiving. And this is particularly encouraging news – same question asked in 2022 by the Gallup poll, 80% of parents nationally reported that they were satisfied with their child’s school. So Texas, we’re seeing an increase in that number. And we also heard that 82% of public school parents would keep their child in their current school if given the choice. So that was exciting and encouraging news for us.
Now, your poll also identified some concerns about issues related to schools, too. What are those, and what do respondents have to say?
So we surveyed parents and non-parents, and I’m referring to them as parents and Texans. So all Texans we’ve heard are concerned about student safety, both in terms of school violence and as well as how students are treated at school. So what we’ve heard here is that 53% of Texans see at least a moderate risk that public schools in their own community might face a mass shooting event at their school. And mind you, this was in September. The Uvalde Robb Elementary tragedy occurred in May. And so it’s not surprising to us that this was on the hearts and minds of Texans and parents across the state.
Something that stood out to me is that you mentioned that 82% of those respondents told your surveyors that they would, if they had the choice, keep their kids in public schools. How does that square with what we’re hearing about public schools having to shutter because people are leaving? And of course, right now this has particular impact, with Gov. Greg Abbott saying he wants to make school vouchers a priority this legislative session.
This poll, like I shared, was administered in September. And I think these issues that you’re sharing, they’ve really started to come to light, what I’ve heard from other parents anecdotally and from schools starting later in the fall. So I don’t know if these issues were as front of mind as the other issues and challenges that we identified in the poll.
I can share some of those other challenges outside of something as dramatic as school violence. Parents also told us that cyberbullying, physical bullying and sexual harassment is a concern, as well as discrimination based on learning abilities, gender identity and economic status. These ranged from high 60% responses to mid-50s. So there is, you know, the tragedy of shootings that are on the front of Texas minds, as well as interactions that occur daily in schools. And I think, you know, we didn’t particularly ask about the issues in this year’s poll that you identified, but this is an annual poll. And we are hearing from Texans and parents and those in the field that these are questions we need to ask opinions of in the future.