Parent Budget Survey Takeaways

In September of 2023, SF Parent Coalition launched the Survey for Tomorrow’s Schools to be able to obtain parent and community input on what families hope to as a baseline commitment to our schools and our students as SFUSD addresses its budget deficit this year. Parents expect SFUSD’s commitment to a baseline of excellence and equity across every school in our district so that each and every one of our students can thrive. Though we are facing enormous budget challenges as a district, it’s more important than ever that we tie every dollar to the student, with clear objectives for how we are spending public education dollars. 

Elementary schools

Our Takeaway: SFUSD’s budget must sufficiently fund the planning, deployment, training, and implementation of best K-5 practice curriculum for English Language Arts and Mathematics

Parents seem to intuitively understand the importance of implementing high-quality curriculum in public schools effectively and with fidelity in order to improve educational outcomes. Research and the experience of other urban school districts prove this to be the case. The elementary school preferences data from our Survey for Tomorrow’s Schools revealed:

  • Families had a strong preference for prioritizing high-quality curriculum and teacher training opportunities across SFUSD elementary schools. 40% of families made this their first choice and nearly two-thirds ranked it in their top three.
  • Other highly ranked categories for elementary schools included:
    • Arts & music program
    • STEM program
    • Learning supports/interventions + Meeting special education requirements for every student with IEP (See the “Families with Students with Special Needs” for more on this)
    • Supports for principals and teachers
  • Health / PE had “middle of the road” support from many respondents for elementary schools, but had low intensity (few people ranked it highly). 
  • Afterschool programming had over 50% more 12th place rankings than any other category for elementary schools, but also had 18% of respondents ranking it in their top 3 choices. This could suggest that – perhaps due to scheduling or family circumstances – there is a subset of families with no interest in SFUSD afterschool programs, no matter the offerings or quality, but that afterschool programs are still of interest to many families. 

Middle schools        

Our Takeaway: SFUSD’s budget must sufficiently fund equitable, high-quality experiential STEM learning opportunities for all middle school students

Parents seem to intuitively understand that robust and effective exposure to STEM courses in Middle School makes a significant difference to students’ (especially students of color) future performance in science and math classes. Success in high school and college STEM starts in Middle School. The middle school preferences data from our Survey for Tomorrow’s Schools revealed:

  • Despite Arts & music electives having the highest average ranking, STEM programs had far more top choice selections than any other option. More than 1 in 5 families said that investing in STEM programs was their top priority for middle schools. 
  • Student safety supports were polarizing. This was one of only two priorities across the entire survey that had over 100 responses in both first and last place.
  • Sports was by far the lowest ranked priority, with over a quarter of families putting this in last place. Librarian + $20/student per year book purchase allocation was also ranked quite low on average. 
  • There was a broad base of support for all seven of the remaining priority areas not yet mentioned in this section. Each had an average ranking between 5.5 and 6.5 with 23% – 32% of respondents ranking it in their top three choices. 

High Schools

Our Takeaway: SFUSD’s budget must ensure that all students have equitable access to advanced coursework including AP courses that interest them, along with scholarship support to pay for AP examination fees for students with financial need.

Parents appear concerned that SFUSD has reduced AP classes in the past and that AP courses are not equitably offered across the district’s high schools.

  • AP Courses was by far the most important priority for high school respondents, with over 40% first choice selections and roughly 70% ranking this in their top three. Electives were a clear second choice, with about 60% of families placing it in their top 3. A full quarter of families chose AP Courses followed by electives for their first and second high school priorities. 
  • Wellness center or social worker was polarizing. About 45% of families placed this in their bottom three choices, but it also had more first choice selections than any category other than AP Courses
  • Robust set of athletics & extracurriculars and Health/PE were the lowest ranked priorities. Neither had more than 3% of respondents select one of these as their top choice.
  • Similar to middle school, the remaining categories all received a fairly broad base of support, with about 30% of people placing each in their top three choices. 

Subgroup Takeaways

Low-Income Families (n = 132)

  • For elementary and middle school responses, health / PE was a higher priority for lower-income respondents than for the overall population (roughly a full point higher average ranking in both categories). This trend does not persist for high school, where lower-income families were much more interested in Early college (AD) and/or CTE credential programs than the overall population. 
  • From most intensity to least intensity, lower-income families were less interested in:
    • High-quality curriculum, materials, and teacher training opps (Elementary); 
    • Supports for principals and teachers (Elementary / Middle)
    • Learning supports/interventions (Elementary / Middle);
    • Guidance Counseling (Middle / High)
  • Substantially more low-income families said that student safety supports for middle school were their top priority (22% compared to 14% average). 

Families with Students with Special Needs (n = 135)

  • Across both elementary and middle school, families of students with special needs prioritized learning supports / interventions and meeting special education requirements for every student with an IEP with much higher frequency than the overall population. It was the most frequently selected top choice amongst both grade ranges (39% for elementary and 30% for middle). Interestingly, while 75% of families placed this in their top three for elementary school, only 50% did so for middle school. That could be because the part of the priority that reads “and meeting special education requirements for every student with an IEP” was only listed on the elementary survey. 
  • For high school, families of students with special needs were less likely to prioritize AP courses than the average family (31% vs. 43% respectively), but – even with that decrease – this was still the most in-demand priority. Families in this subgroup were more likely than the average family to prioritize items related to counselors (both guidance and college/career), and health and wellness.  

Survey Sample  

The survey was available and taken in three languages: English, Chinese, and Spanish. The survey received 774 total responses. Roughly 766 families listed elementary priorities, 732 families listed middle school priorities, and 721 families listed high school priorities. Limitations: Surveys run by SFUSD and SF Parent Coalition alike are rarely fully representative of the district’s student population as a whole, which is why we at SF Parents elevate perspectives of our students and families from marginalized backgrounds, as well as conduct other forms of outreach to ensure we are elevating these families’ perspectives in our advocacy, for example in-person community-based meetings. This survey had an overall response breakdown of: 17% Families eligible for free or reduced price meals; 17% Families with children with special needs; 7% Families with students who are English Learners; 47% White; 24% Asian; 8% Latino/x; 7% Multi-racial; 2% Black/African American; 2% Filipino or Pacific Islander.