The seventy percent non-solution.

Posted by admin
Jan 09 2006

Our governor — through the Yecke years — tried to take control of the curriculum one year. Now it appears he wants to take control of local school spending decisions.

Pawlenty proposes education spending reform (Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal):

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday unveiled a proposal that would require school districts to direct at least 70 percent of their spending toward classroom instruction.

Pawlenty said the proposal will redirect more than $112 million from school administration and other non-classroom expenditures statewide.

“Requiring at least 70 percent of funding to be dedicated to the classroom is common sense,” the governor said. “Taxpayers expect state funding to be targeted on children, not bureaucracies.”

Under the proposal, classroom expenditures would include salary and benefits for classroom teachers and personnel, as well as spending for special education, vocational education, classroom instruction supplies, instructional aides and activities. Non-classroom expenditures would include district and school administration and support services, operations and maintenance, staff development, pupil and instructional support services, athletics and co-curricular activities.

Some expenses would be excluded from the calculation altogether, including transportation, capital expenditures and building construction, food service, tuition expenditures and community education expenditures.

Districts that fail to meet the 70 percent threshold would be required to submit a three-year plan for increasing their classroom spending.

Minnesota school districts currently spend an average of 69.2 percent of their funding in the classroom, according to Pawlenty. Sixty-seven districts exceed the 70 percent requirement, while the state’s other 276 districts fall short.

“There are many school districts that are near or at the 70 percent solution and we commend them for making such a strong commitment to classroom education,” Pawlenty said. “However, other districts are at a lower percentage. We believe the students, parents and teachers in those districts deserve to have similar resources dedicated to the classroom.”

A similar proposal was introduced during the 2005 legislative session, but was not included in the final education budget bill. That initiative called for 65 percent of spending to go toward classroom education, but that formula differed somewhat. For example, it included transportation and food-service costs as non-classroom expenses, whereas those expenses are excluded from the new formula.

It is no surprise that I — a prospective teacher — would be very much in favor of increasing classroom spending. I have seen too many classrooms without the basics — not enough books for students, or desks and chairs. That said, however, teaching without that “non-classroom” expenditure in place could be a challenge. School administration, support services, operations and maintenance and all the rest are integral to our public school system. Try teaching without having such “outside-the-classroom” support to help manage student discipline issues, maintain a computer network, or even keep the classroom properly maintained in the short or long term. I have a feeling that this 70 percent threshold is a red herring to a much larger and more complex issue of whether or not Minnesotans are willing to pay for a public school system that meets the needs of all our children.

Or, if you think as Tracy at Anti-Strib does, you could simply chalk everything up to nebulous “inefficiencies,” buy into Pawlenty’s simplistic “solution,” while possessing little apparent understanding of how public schools actually work or don’t work.

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