The 65 Percent Solution

For those of you who are administrators, operate and maintain facilities, run food service or transportation departments, train teachers, or provide support services (librarians, nurses, counselors), another new initiative is about to hit you in the pocket – the 65 Percent Solution.

What is the 65 Percent Solution?

The 65 Percent Solution does not add monies to the school budget. It takes the current dollars being spent and redistributes the funds. The goal is for each school district in a state to spend at least 65% of its operating budget on“in classroom” expenses – teachers’ salaries and benefits, sports and arts programs, teachers’ aides and classroom materials.

The idea started with Patrick Byrne, president of Overstock.com. Mr. Byrne and his organization, First Class Education, has rallied parents, teachers and taxpayers in his effort to change the law in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to require that at least 65% of what taxpayers spend on K-12 education goes directly toward“in classroom” expenses. His goal is to make this happen by the end of 2008. According to the AASA, several states are considering the idea. Texas is already implementing it and California may see it on the ballot as early as 2008. The House and Senate have already approved it, and Louisiana and Kansas legislators have set it as a goal. Twenty more states – including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon and Washington – are the next targets for voter referendums.

Looking for a Silver Bullet

Everyone agrees that there is a need for improvement in our public education system. But forcing a one-size-fits-all solution will not likely be the answer. From my perspective the 65 Percent Solution is short sighted, not taking into account a plethora of problems faced by today’s students and schools. The 65 Percent Solution is little more than an arbitrary number masquerading as a solution. While I agree that education is all about teaching and learning, the numbers just don’t pan out. If we look at the available data on current trends in spending, the national average being spent in the classroom is already at 61.5%. A recent Standard and Poor’s report found no significant positive correlation between the percentage of funds that districts send on instruction, and the percentage of students who score proficient or higher on state reading and math tests. In addition, not one of the top 10 states on average NAEP scores tops 65 percent for instruction. Based on the preliminary data, siphoning dollars from other necessary programs will not likely result in increased student achievement.

Paradox in the Making

With more funds available for “in classroom” expenses, the goal of many local board of education will be improved teacher quality. With the 65 Percent Solution, money will be available for increased salaries, but teacher training is an “out of classroom” expense and will likely suffer as a result. Despite mandates like inclusion, special needs students will be short changed as the budget tightens for special services like speech, language, and hearing therapy.

Construction, major repairs and renovation costs come out of a different budget and will not likely be impacted, however maintenance, student safety, transportation and food service certainly will. This comes in spite of the fact that more and more research is available showing the positive correlation between clean, safe, healthy facilities and student achievement. The maintenance budget is of particular concern. This budget has traditionally been the first one to be cut. Schools are already operating in emergency mode, repairing things only when they break. A “preventative” maintenance program is a pipe dream for most. The last GAO estimate stated that schools needed approximately $127 billion dollars to bring schools up to par. The American Society of Civil Engineer’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure scored schools at a ‘D’ stating that seventy-five percent of our schools are inadequate for education. Deferred maintenance needs increase exponentially. Investing a small amount of money to keep things in running condition will result in large savings for districts and better grades for students. In addition, an unexpected expense like the rising cost of energy is simply not accounted for.

The bottom line is that education does not take place in a vacuum. In order to guarantee success, we need to look at the entire problem – not just 65 percent.

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