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Betsy Combier

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The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Aaron Carr
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
First Class Education: Put 65% of Every Education Dollar into the Classroom
The idea's appeal lies in its simplicity, proponents say. If school districts were required to make their administrative operations more efficient, they could free up money for use in the classroom.
January 4, 2006
Here's an Idea: Put 65% of the Money Into Classrooms


The idea's appeal lies in its simplicity, proponents say. If school districts were required to make their administrative operations more efficient, they could free up money for use in the classroom.

The thought is at the root of an effort by a new advocacy group - First Class Education - to compel school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budgets on classroom instruction.

Tim Mooney, a Republican political consultant from Arizona, was the driving force behind the creation of First Class Education. Patrick M. Byrne, an entrepreneur from Utah who founded, a retail Web site, is the group's prime financial backer, having pledged $1 million. And the columnist George Will has given their idea the descriptive name that has stuck, "the 65 percent solution."

The goal, Mr. Mooney said, is not to reduce school spending but to shift what he views as inefficient expenditures on administration and support services to teachers and students. "If you did this in all 50 states, it's $14 billion more a year," Mr. Mooney said. "It's enough for a new computer for every student in the country, or 300,000 new teachers."

"We're going to create some priorities," Mr. Mooney said. "We're going to say that the classroom - students and teachers - come first."

The idea already has adherents. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has issued an executive order making the 65 percent solution state policy. The Louisiana Legislature approved a resolution in June urging the State Education Department to adopt the standard as a statewide requirement. The Kansas Legislature adopted it as a policy goal in July, although there is no penalty for districts that do not comply.

But what supporters see as a common-sense proposal, critics view as misguided and misleading.

"This is an absolutely phony sound bite," said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "Schools have such a variety of needs, and they have very, very different spending habits. And there is no evidence that spending 65 percent of your budget on classroom spending will produce higher academic achievement."

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.

"Would you not want to have a guidance counselor for your high school senior?" Dr. Bryant said.

Nationally, 61.3 percent of school operating budgets are spent in the classroom, according to the center. Only two states, New York and Maine, exceed the 65 percent standard.

In Texas, 60.4 percent of school districts' spending goes to classroom instruction, according to the center. Linda Bridges, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said her group was among those that met recently with the Texas education commissioner, Shirley J. Neeley, to discuss the state definition of what is and is not a classroom expenditure, and other questions that need to be resolved to implement the governor's executive order.

Ms. Bridges said advocates of the 65 percent standard use definitions "that we think limit instruction, rather than to define everything that goes into instruction."

"It sounds enticing, but once you start peeling away the layers and start talking about what's in and what's out, in terms of the definition, and you start looking at the long-term implications, it raises a number of questions," she said.

Proponents of the standard contend, however, that it would provide a number of benefits. They say it would force school districts to become more businesslike in how they spend on things like consultants, food service, busing and maintenance. They say it would free up money to increase teachers' salaries without requiring tax increases.

"We put more money into the system, but it doesn't always get to the classroom," said State Representative Mike Powell, the Republican from Shreveport who introduced the resolution that the Louisiana Legislature approved unanimously.

"Once you put this into effect, then it gets people moving in the right direction," Mr. Powell said, "by setting some clear standards that you have to achieve."

If school districts in Louisiana were to meet the 65 percent standard, he said, teachers could get a raise of $5,000 to $6,000 a year.

Several independent experts said there was little evidence that increasing the proportion of money spent on classroom activities improved student achievement. Standard & Poor's, the bond rating agency, said in a recent report: "Student performance does not noticeably or consistently increase at 65 percent or any other percentage spent on instruction."

James W. Guthrie, a professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, dismissed the proposal as "hocus-pocus."

"This is well intended, but misguided," said Dr. Guthrie, who is president of the American Education Finance Association. "Actually, it would be harmful, because it would add to the overlay of regulatory apparatus with which districts have to comply. Why do we want to restrict what school people spend?"

Mr. Mooney said, however, that if the states were ranked by their students' test scores on an achievement test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the states scoring in the top 10 percent would be those with the highest proportion of their spending going to the classroom.

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.

Mr. Mooney said he wrote the memo two years ago, before the organization was founded, and that it was intended for Republican legislators. Its guiding principle was simple, he said: "When politicians do popular things, it makes them more popular."

"Our organization does not have a position on charters and vouchers," Mr. Mooney said. "We're a one-issue organization."

His group, which was created in March, is hoping to make a more concerted splash in 2006. It says it has begun petition drives in four states - Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington - for ballot initiatives that would make the standard mandatory. It hopes to have similar proposals on the ballot in as many as eight other states in November, and its goal is to have comparable rules in all states, either by referendum or legislative action, by 2008.

The American Federation of Teachers has not taken a formal position on the 65 percent solution, but Ed Muir, the assistant director of research and education services, indicated that the union was skeptical.

"We don't think this should be a battle between the services teachers provide and other services that are necessary for kids, particularly poor kids," Dr. Muir said. "If you have a problem with spending, you should do something about wasteful spending."

First Class Education

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation