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Poll: Education Most Important Issue Facing Texas

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AUSTIN (AP) - More than one-fifth of Texans say education is the most important issue facing the state, though it is unclear whether Republicans will pay a political price for cutting education funding, according to poll results released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Texas Lyceum group.

The group released preliminary findings from the telephone survey, conducted at the end of last month, as the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature inches closer to passing a state budget that cuts billions from public schools.

When asked an open-ended question about the most important problem facing Texas, 23 percent of 707 respondents named education, as did 33 percent of 303 likely voters in the group surveyed. Lyceum pollsters define likely voters as Texans who are somewhat interested in politics, are registered to vote and have voted in most or all elections.

Immigration topped the list of responses to the Lyceum poll last fall. The last time education topped Texas residents’ list of most important issues facing the state was in in 2007, when it tied with immigration.

“Polls are a snapshot in time, and this occurred at a time when education was at the top of the agenda,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at UT Austin who conducted the poll.

The telephone survey was conducted May 24-31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

Shaw said it’s usually “political death” to cut voter priorities like education, but “it’s not clear that the Republican Legislature or Gov. Perry is going to take a beating for what they’re doing.”

“We haven’t seen a kind of rally or backlash in Texas yet,” he said.

Lawmakers have worked for the past five months to plug what could be a $27 million budget shortfall. The Legislature approved a plan to cut $4 billion from public education instead of raising taxes or using a significant amount of the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Sixty percent of adult Texans believe the state’s economy has fared better than the nation’s, according to the poll, but responses indicate a largely pessimistic view of what awaits the next generation. While residents feel confident about the state’s performance in relation to others, they still express overall uncertainty.

“There may be a new reality there,” Shaw said.

About 41 percent of likely voters and 26 percent of all respondents said they believe their children will be worse off than them economically. Only 39 percent of all respondents said they believed their children would be better off.

Amy Jasperson, a professor at UT San Antonio who helped conduct the poll, said even when respondents see positive trends in Texas overall, it’s viewed differently from their personal circumstances.

“We’re not seeing positive solutions that make people think we’re moving in the right direction,” Jasperson said.

The poll found that 58 percent of Texans believe the country is on the wrong track, compared with 55 percent last fall. Previous polls have shown that during the past five years, Texans were most optimistic about the country’s direction in the wake of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

About 36 percent of current respondents think the national economy is worse off than it was a year ago. And 53 percent of likely voters said the economic worst is yet to come.

“There seems to be some ambivalence about whether the economy is recovering,” Shaw said. “Whatever cynicism that existed in 2010 may not be gone yet.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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