SLU/YouGov Poll: Missourians Divided on Federal Student Loan Forgiveness
Most voters support spending more on teacher salaries, pre-kindergarten education, and school meals.
The August SLU/YouGov Poll interviewed 900 likely Missouri voters about political and education issues facing Missouri. Voters are divided on federal student loan forgiveness but support raising teachers’ salaries, pre-kindergarten funding, free meals for students regardless of income and allowing students to enroll in public schools outside their districts.
Key Education Findings
- 45% of voters agree that the federal government should forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt, and 43% disagree
- 71% of voters agree Missouri should raise minimum teacher salaries from $25,000 to $38,000
- 53% of voters believe schools should provide free meals for all students, regardless of income
- 61% of voters believe a student should be allowed to enroll in school districts outside of their assigned district
- 57% of voters agree that the state government should fund pre-kindergarten education
- 51% of voters do not think individuals should be able to teach without completing their training or certification
- 62% of voters agree that public charter schools should be allowed to operate in all parts of the state
- 58% of voters rate schools in their community as “Fair” or “Poor.
The margin of error for the full sample of the survey is ± 3.75%.
Federal Student Loan Forgiveness
The prospect of student loan debt forgiveness attracted significant national attention when President Joe Biden announced Aug. 24 that up to $10,000 in student loan debt would be forgiven for many borrowers, along with a final extension of the moratorium on repayments that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic. In early August, the SLU/YouGov poll asked Missouri voters whether they would support such a policy, finding that Missourians are almost evenly divided on the issue: 45% of voters agree with such a policy, and 43% disagree. The remaining 11% of voters were unsure. This issue is heavily divided along voters of different ages and party affiliations. Seventy-two percent of voters below the age of 29 support loan forgiveness, compared to 34% of voters over the age of 65. Eighty-three percent of Democrats agree with such a policy, compared to only 19% of Republicans. Among Republicans, 69% disagree with such a policy, while only 8% of Democrats disagree.
“While Missourians may agree on many of today’s hot-button education issues, it is clear that there is little reaching across the aisle regarding student loan debt forgiveness,” said Evan Rhinesmith, Ph.D., associate director of the SLU/YouGov Poll.
Minimum Teacher Salaries
In 2022, Missouri’s state government passed a one-time budget allocation to fund a voluntary grant program to support increasing teacher salaries for teachers earning between $25,000 and $38,000. School districts must contribute 30% of the necessary funds, with the state government funding 70%. The SLU/YouGov poll surveyed Missouri voters to gauge their appetite for the permanent extension of this funding allocation – 71% of voters indicated their support; only 13% indicated opposition.
“Though teachers are the backbone of our education system, a large number of Missouri teachers remain very poorly compensated for their difficult and vital work,” said Cameron Anglum, Ph.D., of the SLU/YouGov Poll. “In this poll, we’ve learned that a large majority of Missouri voters, regardless of political party affiliations, support permanent efforts to improve teacher compensation for our lowest paid public school teachers, offering a clear signal to the legislature that their temporary budget allocation remains insufficient.”
Universal Free Meals
Missouri was the only state in the nation that failed to take advantage of a federal waiver enabling families to collect free to-go meals for their students during the summer. Over the pandemic, the federal government has provided additional funding to expand free student meal provision, funding that previously was restricted to low-income students. Fifty-three percent of Missouri voters indicated support for universal free meals, 39% indicated support only for low-income students, and 5% expressed opposition for any free meals.
Partisan voters were split on providing free meals. Seventy-three percent of Democrats supported universal free meals, and 26% supported restricting free meals to low-income students. For Independents, these percentages were 53% and 41%, and for Republicans, these percentages were 39% and 49%.
“Missouri voters have indicated their opposition to the state’s current stance against diversifying the ways students may access school meals,” said Anglum. “This sends a strong signal to the statehouse that its members consider matching the approaches of the 49 remaining states to make every effort to support keeping students well-fed.”
State Pre-Kindergarten Education Funding
In recent years, Missouri has expanded state funding for low-income students to enroll in public pre-kindergarten education. Complicating an effort begun several years ago, pre-kindergarten enrollment has declined sharply nationally and across the state since the onset of the pandemic.
Fifty-seven percent of Missouri voters indicated they support the state funding pre-K education, 29% indicated opposition, and 14% were unsure. Democrats and independents signaled significant support while Republican voters remained deadlocked.
“Facilitating robust early childhood learning opportunities represents a vital mechanism to support the state’s young children, parents, and families,” Anglum said. “Though political differences persist, the state’s voters overwhelmingly support state-funded pre-kindergarten education, likely a critical component of rebuilding pre-kindergarten enrollment statewide after an enormously difficult few years.”
Statewide Charter School Operation
Since the state first legalized public charter schools over 20 years ago, it has imposed a geographic limitation on where these schools can operate and, as a result, which students can access these schools. This fall, the state’s first public charter school operating outside of the boundaries of St. Louis City or Kansas City Public Schools opened its doors in St. Louis County. The SLU/YouGov poll asked Missouri voters whether they agree or disagree with charter schools being able to operate anywhere in the state, finding that 62% agree, 15% disagree, and 23% are not sure. This support crossed party lines, as 53% of Democrats and 62% of Republican voters agree with public charter schools being able to operate in all parts of the state.
“In a rare instance of political agreement, we see both sides supporting the potential for public charter schools to operate in other parts of the state,” said Rhinesmith. “However, it is still unclear whether voters in Missouri would be open to charter schools operating in their part of the state and if legislators will be able to find common ground.”
Public School Open Enrollment Policy
Over the past few years, the state legislature has increased school choice options through increased access to charter schools and establishing a new private school choice scholarship program. Legislators have also proposed removing the geographic residential assignment to public schools through open enrollment policies. Among all voters, 61% agreed with the statement that students should be allowed to enroll in public schools outside of their assigned school district, 25% disagreed, and 14% were unsure. Support was strong across both parties, as 56% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans stated they agreed with such a policy.
“Among Missouri voters, there is clear bipartisan support for open enrollment policies, and proposals around this shift have been on the legislature’s radar for the past few years,” said Rhinesmith. “The difficulty in establishing this policy may be less along political lines and more an issue of rural versus urban or suburban considerations.”
Methodology and Funding
YouGov interviewed 900 likely Missouri voters between Aug. 8-16, 2022. The YouGov panel, a proprietary opt-in survey panel, is comprised of 1.2 million U.S. residents who have agreed to participate in YouGov Web surveys. Using their gender, age, race, and education, YouGov weighted the set of survey respondents to known characteristics of registered voters of Missouri voters from the 2019 American Community Survey. The margin of error for the weighted data is 3.75%. Reduced samples of voters answered some questions, and margins of error for these questions are indicated above. The SLU/YouGov Poll is funded by the PRiME Center in SLU’s School of Education and the Saint Louis University Research Institute Big Ideas competition, which provides funding to research initiatives that demonstrate broad faculty engagement, strong leadership and compelling research plans.
Saint Louis University has partnered with YouGov to conduct its annual survey of Missourians. YouGov conducts surveys for multiple academic institutions and is the primary, trusted survey firm for media organizations, including CBS News and The Economist. An independent Pew Research Center study of online survey firms in 2016 further concluded that YouGov “consistently outperforms competitors.”