Poll: Nearly two-thirds of RI voters support $250M bond for school repairs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly two-thirds of Rhode Islanders support floating a $250 million bond that would fund school repairs, but they have mixed feelings about what’s happening inside those buildings, according to a new poll released Monday.

The survey of 422 Rhode Island registered voters found 65% support the school-repair bond, which Gov. Gina Raimondo wants to put on the November ballot. Just 25% of voters oppose the borrowing. Support was similarly strong for local matching bonds to help pay for the projects.

The poll’s sample included 122 voters who have children in public schools, and 40% of them called the condition of school facilities “a great problem” in their communities, with another 31% calling it somewhat of a problem. Given various options, they were most satisfied with teaching quality, with 24% saying it was not a problem.

The education survey was conducted Feb. 12 to 15 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland on behalf of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.77%. (Fleming & Associates has also conducted polls for Eyewitness News since the 1980s.)

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who co-chaired a task force that proposed the school-repairs bond, hailed the poll results.

“Rhode Islanders are clearly ready to make a once-in-a-generation investment in repairing our schools and building modern facilities that can equip students with the skills and experience to succeed,” Magaziner, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The longer we wait the more expensive and difficult it will be to overcome this challenge.”

Polls have long showed that while many voters dislike Congress as a whole, they generally like their local congressman – and it appears a similar dynamic may hold when it comes to public schools.

More than half of Rhode Islanders graded the state of K-12 education in Rhode Island as middling or worse, with 35% giving the state’s schools a “C,” 16% giving them a “D” and 4% giving them an “F,” compared with 4% who graded them an “A” and 29% who gave them a “B.”

And while slightly more than half of voters think their community’s schools are preparing students for colleges, only 37% think they’re preparing them for good-paying jobs.

However, among the 122 voters with school-age kids, 48% gave their children’s schools an “A” and 36% gave them a “B,” versus only 10% who gave them a “C,” and 3% each giving them a “D” or an “F.” More than two-thirds of those voters also approved of the job being done by teachers in their local schools.

The poll suggests few Rhode Islanders realize how much money the state is currently spending on public schools.

According to the Hassenfeld Institute, about $16,500 was spent per child per year in the most recent data available, but nearly two-thirds of those surveyed assumed it was less than that. Just 7% of voters say spending should be decreased, while nearly half say it should stay the same and 42% say it should be increased.

Asked about six items schools may offer, every option was described as important by a majority of those surveyed.

The strongest support was for STEM education – short for science, technology, engineering and math – with 93% describing that as extremely or very important. On the other items, 87% said having computers in school was extremely or very important, 80% said so for providing art and music classes, 75% said so for developing problem-solving skills, 67% said so for having advanced classes, and 65% said so for having extracurricular activities.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook