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California voters say education is a top priority as the governor's race unfolds

California gubernatorial candidates from left, John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa participate in a candidates forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim in October.
California gubernatorial candidates from left, John Chiang, Delaine Eastin, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa participate in a candidates forum at the Sheraton Hotel in Anaheim in October. Orange County Register via Associated Press

An overwhelming majority of Californians say K-12 education is important to them in the 2018 governor's race, but only slightly more than half are paying close attention to news about the candidates.

The head of the Public Policy Institute of California suggests the results of a new statewide education poll released late Wednesday mean candidates for the state's most powerful post are struggling to connect with voters.

"It just speaks to a larger issue in this election year in California about the number of distractions day-to-day and hour-to-hour for those who follow politics and elections and how difficult it will be for the candidates to get people’s attention," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a San Francisco Democrat, continues to lead the field with support from 26 percent of likely voters, down 2 percent from the institute's last poll in March. Republican businessman John Cox trails him with 15 percent of likely voters, while former Los Angeles Gov. Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, falls in third with 13 percent. Nearly a quarter of likely voters remain undecided with less than two months until the June primary.

The survey showed that K-12 education is important to 90 percent of likely voters in the 2018 governor's race and only 54 percent of respondents said they closely follow news about the candidates.

Marshall Tuck and state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, candidates for state superintendent of public instruction, were in a virtual tie with 13 percent support each. PPIC said 74 percent of voters were undecided.

Approximately 67 percent of likely voters said they were "very" or "somewhat" concerned about local school shootings, with Latinos, women and Democrats more troubled than others. But arming more teachers and school officials is not a popular solution. It's opposed by 65 percent of likely voters, which included 86 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Bay Area residents

The majority of likely California voters, 59 percent, favor policies at local school districts to designate properties sanctuary "safe zones" to protect undocumented students and their families from federal immigration enforcements efforts. School safe zones received the highest support from Democrats at 88 percent, compared to 17 percent of Republicans giving their approval.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown's job approval rating dropped four percentage points to 50 percent among likely voters, while the Legislature fell to 42 percent.

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ONE MORE TIME: Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins will celebrate her new leadership post a second time, this time closer to home. Mark Cafferty, president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, will serve as master of ceremonies at Atkins' swearing in ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday at the Jacobs Center Celebration Hall in San Diego.

Sen. Ben Hueso and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber are expected to attend, among other state and local officials. A livestream of the event will be available on Atkins' Senate website. Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, was previously sworn in as Senate president pro tem during a March 21 ceremony on the Senate floor.

ALL ABOUT OPTICS: Facebook dropped out of a coalition of major companies that oppose the California Consumer Privacy Act this week in the midst of heavy scrutiny over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook, AT&T, Google, Verizon and Comcast have given the Committee to Protect California Jobs $200,000 apiece this year to oppose the ballot initiative.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the opposition campaign, said Facebook did not ask for a refund and continues to oppose the measure, but will no longer be involved in the campaign. "They are still against it and find it flawed and unworkable," Maviglio said Wednesday.

The measure would require big companies to disclose the type of information they gather, explain how it is shared or sold and give people the right to prevent businesses from spreading their personal data.

CELEBRATE: Happy 36th birthday to Sen. Henry Stern today. Early shoutouts to US Reps Jim Costa, who turns 66, and Susan Davis, who celebrates her 74th, on Friday, and David Valadao, who rings in his 41st on Saturday.