School systems should be required to spend at least 65% of their money in the classroom. Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? After all, supporters say “If you did this in all 50 states, it’s $14 billion more a year.”
However, as with any simplistic, one-size-fits-all school improvement plan (eg. NCLB!), this one hides a great deal of crap behind the appealing sound bites.
Part of the problem lies in definitions, the critics say. Athletics counts as a classroom activity, including coaches’ salaries, but librarians, guidance counselors, food service workers and school bus drivers do not, under guidelines created by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the federal Department of Education.
As you might suspect, there is more to this effort than concern for a better educational system.
There have been hints that some of those lobbying for the 65 percent solution are at least partly motivated by partisan political concerns.
The Austin American-Statesman reported in August that a memo from First Class Education listed a series of political benefits that would result from getting the 65 percent solution on the ballot. Among them, the newspaper reported, was that it would create divisions between teachers and administrators within education unions and that it would give Republicans greater credibility on public education issues, thus making it more likely that voters would support Republicans who are pushing for school vouchers and charter schools.
Fortunately, the overly-large school district I work for has for many years talked about how we put more than 80 some percent of the money we spend into the schools. That includes such “fluff” as librarians, school-based professional development, and tech support that’s left out of the “65% solution”. That’s a much better way to assess how education money is being spent.