Poll suggests unease about school reopening; urban-rural differences

Poll suggests unease about school reopening; urban-rural differences

poll of Kansas likely voters released Aug. 12 by Survey USA includes a question about attitudes toward opening schools for in-classroom instruction. The response helps show why school leaders are struggling over how to open school and why school districts have taken different paths. 

Unfortunately, the question posed in the poll is inaccurate. The survey states: “The Kansas Board of Education is requiring all public schools to open for in-classroom learning as scheduled on August 10. Do you agree or disagree with this decision?” 

However, the State Board did NOT require schools to open for onsite learning on August 10. It stopped an executive order from Governor Laura Kelly that would have kept schools from opening before Labor Day. The vote did not mean schools had to open “on schedule;” it simply left the decision up to local school boards. 

In fact, most school districts are beginning classes later than last year; a majority of students (not districts) are starting after Labor Day as the Governor proposed, and some districts are waiting even longer to bring students back to class for in-person learning. 

As a result, the survey is asking a question about something that didn’t happenso the responses can only be taken as aindication of how likely voters feel about opening school “on schedule,” rather than delaying. It suggests that “agreeing” means the respondent believes schools should be required to start sooner rather than later and “opposing” means the respondent is concerned about opening schools too soon, even though that is not what the State Board did. 

Among all likely voters, only a minority (41 percent) strongly agreed or agreed with requiring schools to start Aug. 10, and just over half (51 percent) strongly disagreed or disagreed, with 8 percent not sure. More Kansans strongly disagreed (29 percentwith opening “as scheduled” than strongly agreed (19 percent). 

However, there were fairly large differences based on whether voters lived in urban, suburban or rural areas. Rural voters were one of the few groups broken out in the poll where a majority agreed with starting school on time, 51-39 percent. Among urban voters38 precent agreed and 53 percent disagreed, and among suburban voters 34 percent agreed and 58 percent disagreed. (According to the survey 22 percent of voters identified as urban, 45 percent as suburban and 32 percent as rural.) 

Those responses may indicate why Kansas school districts have so far adopted different approaches to reopening. Many of the state’s largest school districts, in both urban and suburban parts of the state, delayed opening, resulting in 57 percent of students starting until after Labor Day. Some of those districts are further delaying in-person instruction for at least some students. 

However, a majority of school districts, many in rural parts of the state, chose to start before Labor Day with most students attending onsite. This suggests that local boards are listening to their constituents. 

Although the State Board of Education did not require schools to start “on schedule,” it did block the Governor’s executive order that would have delayed all schools until after Labor Day. Although some of Governor Kelly’s orders relating to the COVID pandemic have drawn criticism and the Republican controlled Legislature placed new limits on her emergency management powers (which she signed), the survey found that 64 percent of Kansas approve of he jobs she is doing, a higher rate than received by President Donald Trump or Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. 

That may further validate that conclusion that many Kansas are concerned about opening schools to quickly, but there are often differences among groups. 

Among other groups identified in the survey, by gender, 47 percent of males agreed with starting school as scheduled, compared to 35 percent of females. In general, younger voters, who might be expected to have young children in school, were more opposed than older voters, and more likely to be strongly opposed. 

There is a strong partisan divide, with 62 percent of Republicans supporting starting on time compared to just 16 percent of Democrats, and 29 percent of Republicans opposing school starting Aug. 10 compared to 76 percent of Democrats. Independents were also more concerned about starting on time, with 33 percent agreeing and 70 percent disagreeing. (According to the poll, 41 percent identified as Republicans, 31 percent as independent and 26 percent as Democrats.) 

The 51 percent of respondents who said they work full time were more in agreement with early school opening than part-time and not employed respondents, but in each case, a majority did not agree with starting school on scheduleThe 25 percent of likely voters who said their jobs were impacted by COVID-19 were less supportive of early school opening than those who said their jobs has not been impacted. 

By educationvoters with a four-degree college degree were slightly more opposed to starting early than those with high school only or some college without a four-year degree. There was very little difference by income level. 

These Kansas results are generally in line with national survey data. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters released Aug. 12, found 59 percent said they oppose fully reopening K-12 schools for the beginning of the academic year. Those numbers are up from polling last month that showed 53 percent opposed. 

Several recent polls surveyed parents only and also found concerns about sending students back to onsite school. 

A survey of parents, conducted July 24 to July 31 by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University found that 56 percent of parents say it would not be safe to send children back to school in their communities for in-person learning, while 44 percent say it would be safe. More than 7 in 10 parents say they would be uncomfortable with their children seated in full-occupancy classrooms and more than 6 in 10 say the same about children participating in sports and riding the bus. 

According to a new poll for The Economist by YouGov, a pollster, just a third of parents with school-age children say they want their children to go back to their classrooms in the autumn. Nearly half want them to stay at home. A sixth are not sure.