Houstonians on public schools: Show us the money

Kinder Houston Area Survey also reveals lingering concerns in wake of Hurricane Harvey

Houston-area residents’ opinion on the idea of increasing public school funding has shifted significantly over the last quarter century, according to analysis presented in the 2019 Kinder Houston Area Survey.

Houston, Texas, USA downtown city skyline and highway. Photo credit: 123rf.comThe 38th annual survey was released today at the Kinder Institute luncheon at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston. Stephen Klineberg, founding director of Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and an emeritus professor of sociology at Rice University, conducted the survey. Jeffrey C. Hines, president and CEO of Hines, is this year’s recipient of the Stephen L. Klineberg Award, which recognizes an individual who has made a lasting positive impact on Greater Houston.


Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents said education beyond high school is necessary to obtain a job that pays more than $35,000 per year. No one was more certain than Hispanic immigrants (76%).

This recognition of the importance of education could be related to the change in opinion on the need for additional funding for public schools, Klineberg said. Fifty-six percent of respondents in last year’s survey said more funding was needed for public schools; in 1994, 54% said the schools had enough money to provide a good education. Less than half of the respondents in 2018 – 42% — said the schools have enough money, if used wisely, to provide a quality education.

Economic hardship

Traffic continues to reign as the area’s biggest problem according to survey respondents (36%). Meanwhile, the outlook on other issues is improving. Only 15% of respondents said crime is the biggest problem in Houston, and 67% rated job opportunities in the area as excellent or good.

Despite the positive outlook on job opportunities, the survey reflects the prevalence of economic hardship in Harris County. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency. This number is close to the national average reported by the Federal Reserve Board. In addition, 25% of survey respondents lacked health insurance, 31% reported household income of less than $37,500, 35% said they had problems paying for housing and 33% had difficulty buying groceries.

The survey indicates more people than ever in the Houston area are calling for government programs to address these inequalities. Sixty-six percent said government should act to reduce income differences, 62% said government has a responsibility to help reduce inequalities, and 53% said welfare benefits generally give poor people a chance to get started again. These figures compare with 45%, 51% and 34%, respectively, a decade ago.

After Harvey

Eighteen months after flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the survey indicates fewer people in the Houston area consider flooding the city’s top issue. Floods and storms were cited as the area’s biggest problem by 7% of survey respondents this year, compared to 15% last year. Yet three-quarters continue to agree that Houston will almost certainly experience more extreme storms in the next 10 years, and 53% of respondents are also concerned about climate change. And survey respondents are even more insistent (75% this year, up from 70% in 2018) on the need for better land-use planning to guide development.

One noteworthy change from last year is declining support for specific flood-mitigation controls. Only 56% favor prohibiting new construction in flood-prone areas of Houston, compared to 71% a year ago. Fifty percent favor increasing local taxes to buy out more homes that have repeatedly flooded, down from 55% in 2018.


Houstonians of all ethnicities are growing more comfortable with the region’s burgeoning diversity – including everything from attitudes toward immigrants to friendship patterns and romantic relationships.

The survey revealed that area residents in every community are more likely today than in earlier years to have close personal friends from each of the other major ethnic groups in Houston. The most powerful predictor of interethnic friendships is age: The survey indicates younger respondents have grown up in a world full of such friendships and welcome what many older Houstonians still find difficult to accept.

Politically, Harris County has grown more aligned with the Democratic Party in recent years, the survey showed. Area residents have dramatically changed their minds about the moral acceptability of homosexuality; but there’s been little change in abortion attitudes: Most respondents (59%) continue to believe that abortion is morally wrong, but 62% are opposed to making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion.

About the survey

Interviews for this year’s Kinder Houston Area Survey averaged more than 30 minutes each and were conducted between Feb. 4 and March 14 by SSRS in Media, Pennsylvania. SSRS surveyed a scientifically selected representative sample of 1,000 Harris County residents; 50% were reached by landline, 50% by cellphone.

The survey is available online at https://kinder.rice.edu/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.