The 65 Percent Solution

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.

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  1. SuperSub says:

    I was intrigued by the statement that while student enrollment has risen 50 percent in the past 50 years, the number of teachers has risen 300 percent. I’m not too sure what the fine details of that statistic are, but it makes me wonder about the average quality of classroom instructors. From my own schooling I don’t remember having a bad teacher, yet now I see a significant amount. I’ve also heard the same judgements from students. Has the push to increase the number of teachers lowered the overall quality?

  2. In my wife’s high school, funding for “bureaucracy” has been greatly reduced. Here is what that has meant in practice:

    1) Fewer vice-principals. This means more disorder in the classrooms and corridors, timetabling isn’t done well, and there is less communication with teachers.

    2) Fewer department chairs, and no teaching relief for department chairs.

    3) Fewer secretaries. So teachers spend more time photocopying, etc.

    4) No one to maintain the computers.

    The point is that some bureaucracy is necessary, and the distinction between “spending money on the classroom” and “bureaucracy” is bogus.

  3. Yeah, but who gets to decide how much bureaucracy is enough and how much is too much? The bureaucrats? Teachers? Parents? The school board?

    And what methodology will the deciders, who ever they might be, use to decide on the proper level of spending on the bureaucracy? In fact, what methodology is used now to decide if budget should go to bureaucracy or to teaching?

    After all LTEC, while you may be certain that the distinction between someone who spends their day prioritizing the many aspects of cooperative goal-attainment strategies in a multi-variate education matrix and a teacher is bogus it’s not a universally supported point of view.

    As to the scheme referenced in the story, it’s stupid.

    While passing a law mandating some fixed percentage of educational funding going to teaching and not to the bureaucracy seems much more rational then mandating that the tide not come in, both laws are liable to have roughly similar effects and for the same reasons: if you don’t understand how something works you’re unlikely to be able to effect it any predictable manner.

    By suggesting a change to the law as the solution, the author of the scheme reveals his misunderstanding of the situation.