Aside from maintaining a balanced budget, education should garner
the biggest share of attention from state governments over the next two
years, according to a new poll of state lawmakers.
Nearly 40 percent of the 771 legislators polled put education at the top of their lists of priorities. The economy and jobs were most important to 34 percent of the lawmakers in the nationally representative survey.
Those numbers reflect the concerns of legislators' constituents, said Gene Gibbons, the managing editor of Stateline.org, an online news service financed by the Pew Center on the States, which commissioned the survey.
"Education for a number of years has been the number-one concern of voters," Mr. Gibbons said. "It's also an issue that determines the economic well-being of the various states," he added, because it determines how many well-qualified job candidates a state can produce.
And many legislators don't see the economy improving any time soon.
"The thing I thought was interesting was that legislators don't yet seem to see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the budget crises is concerned," Mr. Gibbons said. "They expect it to last at least two more years."
While almost half the legislators polled said that their states were "not too" or "not at all likely" to cut education spending in the next two years, 71 percent said that their states were "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to cut social services spending.
The survey also asked lawmakers about their backgrounds, jobs outside the statehouse, and other demographic information.
A third of the legislators polled reported that they are parents or legal guardians. And 85 percent of that group conceded that their role as parents affects the way they vote "a lot" or at least "somewhat."
Most of the legislators, 78 percent, were male. A majority of the legislators, or 59 percent, reported that before being elected to the legislature they had held no other elected office.
Sixty-two percent also said that they had outside jobs. Lawyer or attorney and small-business owner were the professions most often reported; 3 percent of those polled said they were K-12 teachers or administrators.
The margin of error for the survey, which is available at www.stateline.org, is 3 percentage points.
Vol. 22, Issue 40, Page 15Published in Print: June 11, 2003, as State Journal