Monday, April 11, 2005

Improving Education with the 65% Law

Yesterday, George Will wrote about an attempt by a new group called First Class Education to get states to require their schools to spend at least 65% of their education budgets on classroom work and teacher salary. The first state to try to pass this law is Arizona and the amount of money that would flow from administration to education is immense. Will reports:

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. California (61.7 percent) could use its $1.5 billion transfer to buy 5 million computers or to hire 37,500 teachers. Illinois (59.5 percent) would transfer $906 million to classrooms (3 million computers or 22,650 new teachers).

But those on the administrative side of education are getting their defenses ready. According to a report in the Arizona Republic, school administrators are arguing:

[E]ssential parts of education aren't considered classroom spending...Everything from guidance counselors and psychologists to school lunches and buses fall under the non-classroom spending.

So, would less money for administration and more for teachers and classrooms make a big difference? Hard to tell. Looking at the state-by-state statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, the test score differences between states that have the highest percentage of dollars in the classrooms (New York, Tennessee, Utah and Maine) are not significantly better than those that spend the lowest percentage (Oklahoma, Florida and Arizona). In fact, Florida and Oklahoma outperform Tennessee.

Education is a very complicated matter with many variables. Just shifting money around will not necessarily affect quality. Nevertheless, our federal system is designed to allow different states to try different education solutions. Arizona should pass the 65% law and measure the effect. This is exactly why the Federal Government needs to give our states the room to experiment. Not every idea will be a silver bullet, but any good idea deserves a tryout. And the 65% rule is certainly worthy of a try.


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