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The 65% Distraction

And distraction is what the newest rightwing educational campaign -- the so-called "65% Solution" -- is all about.

The proposal requires each district to spend at least 65% of all revenue "in the classroom." It's poll-tested and sounds good -- Georgia has passed it, with many other states proposing similar bills.

The problem is that their definition of spending "inside the classroom" excludes teacher training, speech therapy for students, curriculum development, and school libraries, while athletics and field trips count as "in the classroom." It's hard to explain how a rule that creates incentives for a school to cut libraries to fund uniforms for the football team is some magic solution to educational problems.

And there is zero evidence from the experience of school districts that the 65% mandate will make a difference. The credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's published a report last November which found "some of the highest-performing districts spend less than 65%, and some of the lowest-performing districts spend more than 65%" and concluded that "no minimum spending allocation is a 'silver bullet' solution for raising student achievement."

But then, the point isn't to fix education; the proposal was hatched by rightwing consultant Tim Mooney and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, a big funder of school voucher initiatives. A leaked memo written by Mooney laid out the goals of the proposal:

 

  • Pit Teachers against Administrators: "Because most state education unions represent both administrators and teachers, the proposal will create tremendous tension within the organization."
  • Bankroll Ballot Initiatives with Soft Money: "In the era of campaign finance limitations on candidates, PACs and parties, galvanizing an electorate via the initiative process is a tremendous opportunity."
  • Lay Groundwork for Vouchers: "Targeted segments of voters may be more greatly predisposed to supporting voucher and charter school proposals, as Republicans address the voting public with greater credibility on public education issues."

Tellingly, money for private vouchers or other subsidies would count within the 65% mandate.

Instead of getting more money to school districts that need it, the proposal, in the words of the National PTA, is just a "one size fits all" approach that creates a rigid formula ignoring the reality of different school districts:

District expenses differ based on climate, geography, and types of students. School districts can serve very rural areas that will have high transportation costs, or serve only disabled students and incur high facilities and health care costs.  Schools in areas where heavy snowfall is common will have high operational costs, and schools that enroll a super-majority of Free and Reduced Lunch eligible students will have high food services costs.

 

On top of the mandates from the federal No Child Left Behind law, the 65% mandates will just add another inflexible rule to the strained budgets of local schools. But that's of course the point for a proposal meant to distract voters from real reform for the schools and prep them for school vouchers.

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