Barely a week before the coronavirus upended education in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to students at Oakland's Manzanita Community School on March 2. (Photo by Ali Tadayon/EdSource)

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has completely upended education at all levels, the majority of California voters support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s handling of education issues, according to a just-released EdSource survey.

An even higher proportion support his position on requiring distance learning for counties with a high incidence of COVID-19 infections.

These are among the key findings of an EdSource representative poll of 834 registered voters, conducted online between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7 by the FM3 Research polling firm. The poll was underwritten with support from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation the Hewlett Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

According to the poll, some 54% approve of Newsom’s handling of education, while 39% disapprove. Parents give Newsom slightly lower ratings, and in fact appear to be divided on their level of support, with 49% expressing approval and 47% disapproval.

Higher-income voters are most positive about Newsom on this measure. Among racial and ethnic groups, he gets the highest rating among African Americans (71%) compared with 58% of whites and 52% of Latinos.

Voters, however, give slightly lower approval ratings to their local school board (43%), with 30% disapproving, although 27% have no opinion. The high number of voters without opinions presumably reflects the fact that they have little contact with, or knowledge of, how local school officials are doing.

Strong support for Gov. Newsom’s position on distance learning

Newsom gets even stronger support for his executive order issued over the summer requiring distance learning in schools that are located in counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list.

Two-thirds of voters (67%) support the governor on the distance learning issue, with 53% strongly supporting him. Only 29% oppose him on the issue.

Much of the support for Newsom is tied to party affiliation and political leanings. Some 93% of Democrats back his executive order on distance learning, compared with 68% of independents and only 20% of Republicans. That level of support is mirrored among voters who describe themselves as liberal or conservative.

While a majority of parents express opposition to Trump’s back-to-school appeals, there is less opposition than among voters in general. Some 53% of parents opposed Trump on this issue, while 45% express support. This difference is likely a result of the desire or even urgency that many parents feel about getting their children back to school as soon as it is possible, and certainly as it is safe to do so.

Voters appear to be divided on whether the pandemic should be handled on a local or state level.

Almost half of voters (49%) say local school districts should be the ones to decide if schools will offer in person instruction or adopt distance learning, while 43% say the state government in consultation with state health officials should establish the rules for when schools will be allowed to offer in person instruction.

Voters divided on whether students should be held to same academic standards during pandemic.

This year, in order to receive state funds, public schools are required to keep attendance and cover the academic content as rigorous as what is normally required. Voters in general, along with parents, are divided on whether it is fair for schools to be held to the same standards during a pandemic. Nearly half (46%) of voters say it is fair, as do 53% of parents, while 50% of voters and 46% of parents say it is unfair. There is a partisan split on this issue, with Democrats and independents more likely to say it is unfair than Republicans.

Voters and parents are similarly split on whether students should be held to the same academic standards.

The sample in the poll included 634 registered voters statewide and an additional 200 voters who are parents or guardians of a child under age 19. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/-3.5% at the 95% confidence level, and +/-5.7% for the parent sample

Story originally published by EdSource.