George Will touts the “65 Percent Solution” as a way to boost school funding without raising taxes.
The idea, which will face its first referendum in Arizona, is to require that 65 percent of every school district’s education operational budget be spent on classroom instruction. On, that is, teachers and pupils, not bureaucracy.
Nationally, 61.5 percent of education operational budgets reach the classrooms. Why make a fuss about 3.5 percent? Because it amounts to $13 billion. Only four states (Utah, Tennessee, New York, Maine) spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in classrooms. Fifteen states spend less than 60 percent. The worst jurisdiction — Washington, D.C., of course — spends less than 50 percent.
Under the 65 percent rule, Arizona, which spends 56.8 percent in classrooms, could use its $451 million transfer to classrooms to buy 1.5 million computers or to hire 11,275 teachers.
Patrick Byrne, a businessman who’s promoting the 65 percent idea, thinks it will weaken the teachers’ unions. I don’t see the logic in that. More instructional dollars could be spent hiring teachers or raising teacher pay; it’s the administrators who’d get the hook. Of course, that’s only if they couldn’t dream up ways to redefine their jobs as instructional.
Will’s examples of how the extra money might be spent, such as buying more computers, illustrate the problem. It’s very unlikely buying more computers will improve learning. Raising teacher pay will do little unless the pay is targeted; for example, it would help to pay enough to attract experienced teachers to inner-city schools.
The idea tests very well in polls. Expect it to spread.