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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Poll: A Two-Party Split on Arming Teachers

A huge majority of Californians are concerned about the threat of a mass shooting at their local school, but differ sharply on partisan lines over President Trump’s signature solution – allowing teachers to carry guns - according to a major new Public Policy Institute of California poll.

The non-partisan, non-profit, San Francisco-based policy study organization probed public attitudes about several dozen education issues, from safety and the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, to immigration and the school policies of the candidates for governor.

“Despite a rancorous political climate,” said polltaker Mark Baldassare, “majorities across party lines agree that the candidates’ positions on K–12 public schools are very important in deciding whom to support.”

Partisan anxiety. The survey comes as a lethal mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. has reignited a national debate and demonstrations over how to prevent such tragedies.

At the same time, Santa Barbara’s Unified School District is crafting new protocols and plans for how to deal with gun violence at schools.

Statewide, the level of concern about the possibility of a shooting, and what to do about it, varies by political orientation, and by ethnicity. The PPIC poll shows that:

  • Nearly three in four adults surveyed (73 percent) -- and 82 percent of a sub-group of public school parents -- said they are very, or at least somewhat, concerned that such an incident may take place in their local school.

  • A majority of Democrats within the survey - 55 percent - said they are “very concerned” about mass school shootings, far more than the 24 percent of Republicans expressing that view, or the 36 percent of independents who did so.

  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Latino adults surveyed, and nearly six in ten African-Americans (57 percent), expressed great concern about the possibility, while fewer than half of Asian Americans (49%) and whites (34 percent) indicated such anxieties.

Gun-toting teachers. In response to Parkland and other school massacres, President Trump has made a number of inconsistent statements about possible solutions. The only proposal for which he has stated consistent support, however, is to allow local schools to arm teachers and administrators in order to fire back at assailants during shooting incidents.

Like Trump himself, this is not a popular position among most Californians.

Statewide, two-thirds of adults (67 percent) and public school parents (68 percent) oppose arming teachers.

This compares with 50 percent of adults across the nation who support Trump’s idea, a recent CBS News poll showed.

Like many issues in the current toxic political climate, the notion of teachers carrying guns is a politically polarizing one:

  • A solid majority of Republicans (60 percent) favor the arming of teachers.

  • A vast majority of Democrats (86 percent) oppose such a policy.

  • A strong majority (60 percent) of political independents agree with Democrats that teachers should not pack guns in schools.

“Half or more across (geographic) regions and demographic groups oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools,” Baldassare reported. “Whites (59 percent) and residents of the Central Valley (50 percent) are the least likely to oppose.”

There’s always a local angle. Armed teachers and principals play no part in any of the safety plans adopted, and recently revised, by all schools within the SB Unified School District.

School board member (and Newsmakers TV panelist) Laura Capps recently led the effort to have the plans updated to include specific steps for students, teachers and administrators to take in the face of an active shooting incident.

“Unfortunately, with each new school shooting, we learn things,” Capps said.

“”It sounds morbid, but (law enforcement and other experts) keep modifying best practices. Now the protocol is ‘run, hide, fight,’ rather than a pure lockdown,” which was the recommended procedure in the past, she added.

Beyond the school-by-school plans, the school board also has authorized Superintendent Cary Matsuoka and other top district officials to create and lead a new task force to “study, research and provide recommendations for how to improve school climate and safety” in Santa Barbara.

Going beyond the issue of guns, the group will focus on five, interrelated areas in an effort to craft new strategies to prevent, as well as combat, deadly incidents: Public Safety (law enforcement); Campus Safety; Mental Health; Technology and Education about Bias, according to a briefing document prepared for the board.

“The goal is to bring the recommendations to the Board of Education by December 2018,” the memo says.

This just in. Other key findings about Californians and education from PPIC:

  • More than two-thirds (70 percent) of all those surveyed said they are very, or somewhat, concerned that the Trump Administration’s immigration crackdown will affect undocumented students and their families in local public schools.

  • Nearly as many (65 percent) said they support the designation of their local school district as a sanctuary “safe zone” that tries to protect its students and their families from federal immigration enforcement efforts. Thirty percent oppose such a policy, which is in place in Santa Barbara.

  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of likely voters said the candidate’s position on public education is very important, in selecting who to vote for in the governor’s race, compared to 26 percent who said it is only somewhat important and 11 percent who say it matters not at all, or don’t know.

  • Nearly six in ten (59 percent) of all adults in the survey said that current state funding for their local school is adequate, while 23 percent said it is “just enough,” 10 percent said it is “more than enough” and 9 percent had no clue.

  • More than one-third (35 percent) of parents in the survey said that sending their kid to public school would be their first choice, if they had the ways and means to select any kind of education; 31 percent would pick private school, 18 percent a religious school and 13 percent a charter school.

The fine print. The survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,704 California residents (1,193 cell phone and 511 landline interviews), conducted in either English or Spanish, from March 25-April 3.

The statistical accuracy of reported results vary, depending upon the sample size of the group responding.

The margin or error for the entire survey sample is plus or minus 3.2 percent; for 1,330 registered voters, it is plus or minus 3.6 percent; for 867 likely voters plus or minus 4.4 percent; for 523 parents, plus or minus 5.5 percent; for 391 public school parents, plus or minus 6.2 percent.

Images: Mike Luckovich; Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who have galvanized a national movement about school and gun safety; Leader of the Free World; Laura Capps; Logo of the Public Policy Institute of California; Mark Baldassare, PPIC CEO and chief polltaker.

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