SAN FRANCISCO -- A majority of Californians support the governor's proposal to give more money to school districts with a high percentage of low-income and English learner students, a new survey shows.

"Many Californians believe that student achievement will improve if we allocate more state money to disadvantaged students," said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC, which released the survey results Wednesday. "Still, most residents also say that we need to use existing funds more wisely to improve schools."

The survey showed that nearly three-quarters of all adults -- 71 percent -- said they favor Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan to direct most new K-12 education funding to school districts that have more poor students or those who don't speak English fluently. An overwhelming majority -- or 78 percent of adults and 79 percent of likely voters -- also favor Brown's plan to give more local control to districts as to how they spend their money.

Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project, said these findings are significant, as the state Legislature debates the governor's proposal.

"Clearly, the survey affirms what the research shows -- which is that Californians support providing resources needed for all students to receive a quality education, but particularly low-income and English learners," he said. "And Californians understand that students with greater needs require greater resources."

Even more significant, Kaplan said, were the survey's findings that Californians would support giving more money to these needy students, even if it means less funding for other districts.

Sixty-six percent said they would support additional money for districts with more low-income students, even if others got less. And 54 percent said they favored giving additional money to districts with more English language learners, even if less went to other districts.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the youth advocacy organization Education Trust-West, hopes legislators pay attention to this.

"It clearly shows you that the notion of sending more money to districts of high levels of need ... is politically palatable in California across the board -- and that runs directly counter to what those attacking the Local Control Funding Formula are saying in the Legislature," he said. "I think this survey should have tremendous impact."

Brown's overall approval rating was 46 percent, with 31 percent disapproving of the job he is doing as governor and 22 percent unsure. This was higher than the state Legislature's approval rating of 32 percent, with 53 percent disapproval and 15 percent unsure.

Education priorities among those surveyed showed a high level of support for college preparation, with 76 percent of all 1,705 respondents identifying this as very important, compared with 19 percent who said it was somewhat important and 4 percent who did not think it was too important. Likewise, 74 percent of Californians said career technical education or vocational courses were very important, 21 percent said they were somewhat important and 5 percent placed little importance on it.

Districts would have more flexibility to spend money on these types of programs under the governor's proposal, said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. In the past, she said the state doled out restricted money for "categorical" programs such as small class sizes, but didn't track whether it made a difference.

"We haven't really done a good job of measuring the effectiveness of that spending in terms of outcomes," she said. "I think it's really the role of the Legislature to put in more performance-based accountability systems for schools."

But if there is no improvement, she proposes that the state consider taking away flexibility and imposing restrictions on how money is spent, with the goal of improving student achievement.

The survey showed 83 percent of Californians consider the quality of education in the state to be at least somewhat of a problem, with 49 percent calling it a big problem. This was better than last year, when 58 percent labeled it a big problem.

The poll, which surveyed the 1,705 Californians from April 2-9, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. For the 1,134 likely voters surveyed, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Theresa Harrington covers education. Reach her at 925-945-4764 or tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

NEW POLL's Key findings
  • 46 percent of Californians approve of Gov. Jerry Brown's job performance, down from 51 percent in January, but up from 43 percent last year.
  • 32 percent approve, and 42 percent disapprove, of the way the governor is handling the state's K-12 education system, an increase in support from 27 percent last year.
  • 31 percent of Californians approve of the state Legislature, and 53 percent disapprove, with approval down from 34 percent last month.
  • 71 percent of Californians and 60 percent of likely voters support the governor's plan to direct more money to English learners and low-income students.
  • 74 percent of adults surveyed and 67 percent of likely voters say these students' academic achievement will improve with more funding.
  • 66 percent of adults say school districts with low-income students should get more new state funding, even if this means less funding for other districts.
  • 54 percent say school districts that have more English language learners should get more funding from the state, even if this means less funding for other districts.
  • 89 percent of adults and 79 percent of likely voters support giving local districts more flexibility over how state money is spent.
  • 63 percent of adults say the current level of state funding for their local public school is not enough.
  • 49 percent of Californians think the quality of education is a big problem, down from 58 percent last year.
  • 66 percent see the dropout rate as a big problem, down from 74 percent two years ago.
  • 76 percent of Californians say preparing students for college is very important.
    SOURCE: Public Policy Institute of California. The complete survey results are available by visiting www.ppic.org/main. Click on "Publications."