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USF-Nielsen Survey: Floridians say healthcare for mentally and physically disabled is declining       

Professor Susan MacManus shares analysis for last section of the 2015 survey

TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 28, 2015) More than 60 percent of Floridians rate the state of Florida's performance in caring for the mentally and physically disabled as "poor" or "fair," according to the 2015 USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey.

With healthcare on the mind of many, the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey asked Floridians to rate the state's performance of providing health care to Florida's dependent populations --children, seniors, and the mentally and physically disabled.

"Here you see the ratings aren’t good at all in terms of health care provided to the physically and mentally disabled," said University of South Florida Distinguished University Professor Susan MacManus. "Sixty-two percent think the state is doing a "fair" or "poor" job in providing health care for that group, and it's worsening."

The state received similar marks for its provision of health care to seniors, with 56 percent rating it as either "fair" or "poor." The state's performance ratings for providing health care to children were slightly better, although still negative--46 percent "fair" or "poor" compared to 39 percent "good" or "excellent."

This portion of the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey also looked at Florida's educational system, which includes K-12 and higher education. While Floridians rated the state's educational system overall as "moderately successful," the quality and state provision of K-12 education was judged to be lower than that for higher education.

Floridians are split on the quality of education in the local public schools. Forty-nine percent gave local public schools a "fair" (32 percent) or "poor" (17 percent) rating, while 46 percent rated it "good" (36 percent) or "excellent" (10 percent).

The survey also asked Floridians to identify the top priority for the local public school systems. "Increase teacher pay to attract and retain the best teachers" was cited as the top priority by 36 percent, followed by "improve discipline in the classroom" (15 percent) and have "more accountability and better management of financial resources" (13 percent).

"Higher teacher pay tops the list, as it has for awhile, and it's also increased this year," MacManus said. "In studying support for higher teacher pay, there are probably two explanations for it. One is that there is increasingly a teacher shortage in K-12. Many of our schools have struggled with that this year, and teacher pay is at the heart of that problem. The second is that people tend to want higher teacher pay when you have a better economy. I think those two things are converging to explain the increase in support for higher teacher pay."

Floridians also were asked to evaluate the performance of their local school board. Nearly half judge their local school board’s performance as "fair" (33 percent) or "poor” (15 percent) compared to 39 percent who see it as “good” (32 percent) or "excellent" (6 percent).

"What is interesting is the somewhat negative evaluation of the local school boards because people usually rate local governments much more highly than the state or federal governments, but it’s not the case in these ratings," MacManus said.

For higher education, Floridians have a much more favorable outlook of the state’s performance. More than two-thirds (69 percent) rate the quality of higher education in Florida as either "good" or "excellent," while 24 percent see it as just "fair" or "poor."

Tuition for the state's universities and colleges is seen as too high by 58 percent of the respondents. Just 28 percent regard tuition rates as "about right" and a paltry 2 percent see it as "too low," MacManus said.

With tuition costs on the mind of Floridians, it comes as no surprise that many had an opinion on how the state's Bright Futures Scholarships should be distributed. A majority (57 percent) believes these scholarships should be given out both on the basis of academic achievements and financial need, while 39 percent prefer them to be awarded "strictly on academic achievement." Only 3 percent had no opinion.

Students in MacManus's Media and Politics class, who helped write the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey, added a new question to address a controversial issue of the Bright Futures Scholarships. Despite the state requiring students to complete 9 credit hours during the summer term if they enter a university with less than 60 credits, Bright Futures Scholarships do not cover the tuition for summer courses.

The survey results revealed that 75 percent of Floridians think Bright Futures should pay for summer courses. Only 19 percent opposed this and 6 percent did not express an opinion.

"I'm sure this is something the legislators will be hearing quite a bit about from college students and their parents," MacManus said.

For the second year in a row, the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey asked Floridians to identify the most serious issue facing today’s college graduates. College student debt was ranked the top concern by 33 percent, followed by 26 percent citing lack of well-paying jobs in the graduate’s field and 20 percent said graduating without job skills required by employers, such as interpersonal communication skills.

"We have seen a pretty dramatic increase in the citation of debt as the biggest problem with a slight drop in the number of people who say the lack of well paying jobs in their field is the biggest problem," MacManus said. "Clearly, the drop in the availability of jobs mention is a factor of Florida’s economic recovery."

The final part of the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey looked at the environment. By far, water-related problems top the list of environmental concerns (38 percent), followed by potential disasters (18 percent), pollution (15 percent) and over development (6 percent). Water-related problems were also the most cited in 2014.

"It is somewhat telling that 20 percent were not able to give an opinion about a specific environmental concern," MacManus said. "That tells environmental groups that they have a lot of work to do in terms of educating Floridians about key environmental problems."

Complete results of the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey can be found on its website, along with cross tabs and results from previous years.

The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey is the most anticipated annual survey of Floridians on a wide range of issues affecting the state of Florida and serves as our state leaders’ report card. Conducted by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida and Nielsen, this survey has become a critical source of citizen opinions on key issues facing this rapidly changing state--the nation's third largest. The series of questions asked annually since 2006 provides leaders and academics in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with much-needed trend line data, while questions on newly-emerging issues give leaders an invaluable baseline look at where a wide cross-section of our state's residents stand on them.