Gun violence in schools ranked top education issue in California

Gun violence in schools ranked top education issue in California

(Calif.) Results from a new poll show California voters view reducing gun violence in schools as the top educational issue facing the state, though there was less agreement on how lawmakers should address the issue.

The poll, conducted by the University of Southern California in collaboration with the Policy Analysis for California Education, found reducing gun violence in schools was the top issue for Democratic respondents, and second among Republicans.

Some potential policy solutions, such as expanding student mental health resources or improving active shooter drills, received support across the board, while others–including arming teachers or banning high-capacity firearms–were split along party lines.

Regardless, researchers concluded that voters overwhelmingly agreed that something must be done.

“This poll sends an unmistakable message from voters to policymakers: Do something about gun violence,” Joyce King Stoops, dean of USC Rossier School of Education, said in a statement. “We have the means and the expertise to prevent future tragedies, including through the improvement of social and emotional health. This is some of the most important work that policymakers can do, if they can put in the time and energy the public wants them to.”

According to data from the U.S. Center for Homeland Defense and Security, there were nearly 100 incidents of gun violence on school grounds in 2018–defined as any gun incident in school, regardless of the time or whether anyone was shot or injured.

Last year saw the highest number of incidents and deaths ever recorded, in figures going back to 1970. There were more than 160 casualties, compared with a previous high of 97 in 1986.

With each passing incident, lawmakers and district leaders throughout the country proposed various ways to tighten mental health and security measures. In Florida's Marion County Public Schools, for instance, high schoolers were told they must wear visible identification badges on campus that show they are a currently enrolled student. And Clark County School District in Nevada–the fifth largest school district in the country–policymakers said middle and high school students will be subject to random searches.

In California, former-Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year requiring schools to regularly notify students and families of available mental health services on campus or in the community; requiring that any school modernization project done with money from the state’s school facility bond program include locks that allow doors to be locked from the inside; and requiring schools to conduct annual active shooter drills.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced this legislative session would require all K-12 schools in the state to have at least one mental health professional available for students.

Results from this latest poll would appear to back such efforts.

The survey of 2,000 California voters was conducted online from January 3 through January 9 by Tulchin Research on behalf of researchers at PACE and USC. Respondents were given a list of education issues in the state and asked to indicate how important each one is on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being very important and one being not at all important.

All respondents indicated they were registered to vote–45 percent as Democrats, 25 percent as Republicans, 25 percent as Independent, and 2 percent as other party members. Three percent indicated they didn’t know which they were affiliated with.

Researchers found that voters cite reducing gun violence in schools as the top educational issue facing the state at an average rating of 8.6 out of 10—a finding that held true across race, sex and many age groups. Fifty-six percent of respondents rated the issue as a 10–the most important–while for 32 percent, the rating fell between a six and nine.

To deal with the problem, voters showed the greatest support for expanding access to mental health resources, with 87 percent agreeing to such a solution. Close to 80 percent said they also supported the use of active shooter drills.

The results did show a schism based on party affiliation in some cases, however. At 81 percent, Democrats are more likely to support banning and confiscating assault rifles or other high-capacity firearms, compared to 50 percent of Republicans. Republicans, meanwhile, showed more support for arming local teachers at 55 percent, compared to 19 percent of Democrats.

Respondents cited college affordability as the second-most important education issue, with an average rating of about 8.4 out of 10. The following included reducing teacher shortages, improving education funding, increasing the number of students who finish college and supporting struggling schools, all of which received an average ranking of between 8 and 8.2 out of 10. more