Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

What education issues are influencing voters? Not all-day-K, poll finds

At the top of their lists are overall school funding, teacher quality, class size and curriculum and standards, a MinnCAN poll found.

Would it surprise you to hear that all-day kindergarten is the education topic least likely to influence how Minnesotans vote next week? It sure did me.

According to a poll released Tuesday by the advocacy organization MinnCAN, all-day-K is the education issue they’re least likely to consider as they head to the polls. At the top of their lists are overall school funding, teacher quality, class size and curriculum and standards, the poll found.

Two-thirds feel state legislators do not prioritize education enough, 60 percent believe Minnesota students are doing as well or better than the United States as a whole and some 36 percent believe kids of color are doing as well or better than their white peers.

Residents of Greater Minnesota are more likely to say education is very important to them and less likely to see a wide gap between the state’s white students and its children of color and Native American students.

DFL canvassers bringing it up constantly

It’s surprising to hear that all-day-K isn’t polling as high as a number of more obscure issues because DFL canvassers are relentless in talking to voters about the shift, which took place this fall.

Article continues after advertisement

Two years ago when the DFL governor and his partisans announced that the marquee budget item from the 2013 Legislature would be all-day kindergarten, the talk was that it was a political gambit.

The thinking was thus: In order to both raise taxes and win re-election, Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers would need something very tangible — like with a retail price tag tangible — to hand to voters. And that tangible something had better benefit households both in the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota.

All-day-K, as it’s shorthanded, was hardly at the top of most school districts’ wish lists. But unlike hotter education issues — many of them divisive within the DFL — it fit the ticket.

It’s a no-brainer that it’s good for kids, and lots of districts were already digging deep to pay for it. Extending it to families all over the state would put day-care and tuition payments back into the checking accounts of households across the economic strata.

400 Minnesotans surveyed

The poll released Tuesday was conducted by the communications firm PadillaCRT, which surveyed 400 Minnesotans of voting age online and via telephone. A little more than half of respondents lived in the metro area, the rest throughout the state.

Respondents were slightly more likely to describe themselves as Democrats or leaning Democratic. Sixty percent do not have children living at home and 9 percent are current or former teachers. More than 88 percent were white.

The numbers are the most detailed made public on Minnesota education issues this campaign season. Education in general is one of the top four issues Minnesotans will consider at the polls, right behind health care and the economy, each of which was mentioned by 62 percent of respondents.

Two-thirds say education will be very important or extremely important when they decide whom to vote for, with another 25 percent describing the topic as somewhat important. It’s slightly more important to Greater Minnesota voters than urbanites, appealing to 63 percent vs. 55 percent.

School funding on their minds

The specific education issues on voters minds as they head to the polls? Nearly 74 percent of respondents said school funding would factor into their decision at the ballot box, while 68 percent said teacher quality was important.

Slightly more than 60 percent named curriculum and standards and class size as priorities, while 47 percent said bullying was an important issue. Asked to name the biggest contributor to kids’ success in school, 42 percent said family involvement, while 28 percent said quality teachers.

Article continues after advertisement

Of those who named family involvement, 43 percent were white vs. 30 percent respondents of color. Respondents were also divided by race in naming the biggest contributor to the achievement gap. Nearly half of white voters said family involvement, vs. one-third of those of color. Minorities were three times as likely as whites to cite school funding and curriculum and standards.

Respondents gave schools higher marks for educating white and Asian students than other children and overestimated high-school graduation rates. More than half said Minnesota could have some success in closing the achievement gap in 10 years and a fourth said it could be mostly or completely closed.

Tests, reforms …

Slightly more respondents than not had confidence in annual statewide performance tests, and just 29 percent felt there were too many tests.

Few respondents oppose a list of reforms including moving away from seniority-based teacher layoffs and allowing teachers licensed in other states to teach here. While there was strong support for some, there were also pronounced numbers of respondents who said they were unsure.

Nearly 60 percent of Democrats said state lawmakers prioritize education too little, vs. 46 percent of independents and 34 percent of Republicans.