Two polls show that most Texas voters believe the state should do whatever it takes to address student learning loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the polls, the second annual Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation Poll, also found that most Texans – more than 8 in 10 – support state-funded broadband internet access for public school students whose families can’t afford it. Both parents and people without children expressed overwhelming support.

Those two topics received the most support consistent across all demographic groups and political affiliations, said Jennifer Jendrzey, Raise Your Hand Texas vice president of strategy and evaluation. The Austin-based nonprofit aims to support and advance Texas public education.

While the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation Poll focused solely on education, the Texas 2036 poll covered a broad range of issues that state legislators plan to discuss and debate this session, including education, health care, and workforce. Texas 2036 is a nonprofit organization working to provide research-based solutions for issues that affect most Texans, with a focus on the state’s bicentennial in 15 years.

Texas 2036’s poll found that most Texans are worried about students receiving an inadequate education. Of the 1,021 voters surveyed, 79% were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” that only 3 in 10 fourth graders could read at grade level. The same percentage of respondents supported more teacher training to improve reading at the fourth-grade level.

Additionally, more than two-thirds of Texans said they believe the state should use all available tools to address learning loss caused by the pandemic, including standardized tests. Most surveyed – 84% – think Texas should expand access to high-quality tutoring to help close COVID-19 learning gaps, a step taken by other states that has benefited students.

Despite the challenges the pandemic forced schools to face, a majority of the 1,034 Texans who responded to the Raise Your Hand Texas poll – 56% – graded their schools with an A or B. That is up 8 percentage points from last year for parents and non-parents, the first time the poll was conducted, Jendrzey said.

“I think that speaks to how all of us have really seen the sacrifices that educators have had to make to make sure that students are learning during this very challenging time,” she said.

But those surveyed identified other obstacles to education aside from those related to the pandemic, Jendrzey said. About 7 in 10 Texans identified food insecurity, lack of access to medical care and to mental health support, and ineffective or biased disciplinary practices as barriers to low-income students.

“Texans really believe that students face learning barriers based on income, race, and ethnicity, and Black Texans have the greatest concern,” Jendrzey said. “Texans’ attitudes really are informed by their own racial and ethnic identities and experiences.”

As the 87th Legislature meets in Austin, most Texans surveyed are concerned about how funding cuts to public education could impact school quality. Overall, 84% said they were very or somewhat concerned about funding cuts, including parents and non-parents.

“The funding sources that folks identified in here are pretty interesting,” Jendrzey said. “Of course, many of them are ‘sin taxes,’ and as we know, those are typically what folks identify in these types of polls.”

In identifying new revenue sources for education, 78% of respondents support a new tax on vaping devices and products, and 77% favor a tobacco tax increase. Legalizing and taxing casino gambling garnered support among 66%, while 64% favor an alcoholic beverage tax and legal, taxed cannabis.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.