Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Why Texas schools need the '65 percent solution'

This so-called "65 percent solution," requiring dollars to get re-apportioned in our state's districts is being pursued by Gov. Perry as a way to get around the fact of several failed legislative sessions that should have increased the spending amounts overall. It's questionable just how much more work magically reproduced in test scores can be engendered when they're already squeezed in terms of all they can give, produce. We/Texas should know. We've been at this for 2 decades. -Angela

Aug. 23, 2005, 7:21PM
Why Texas schools need the '65 percent solution'

Move would translate into $1.6 billion without tax hike

It's a tough pill to swallow: reforming state taxes to increase the state's share of education funding. But it is clear public schools are ailing as test scores fall and many district rankings drop.

While education lobbyists clamored for as much as $6 billion to $8 billion more in education funding, the citizen group Americans for Prosperity in Texas believes that more money won't fix the problem. One symptom of the system's problems is fiscal mismanagement of existing education dollars.

Even the school finance lawsuit currently before the Texas Supreme Court has left taxpayers questioning how our education dollars are being spent. While school districts are using millions of tax dollars to sue the state for more tax dollars, the court heard that Socorro Independent School District justified a waterslide by claiming it lowered dropout rates.

SISD is a good example of misguided spending priorities. In addition to a waterslide, it has as many nonteaching staff as teachers and its "acceptable" academic rating isn't really acceptable to parents and taxpayers.

When is a waterslide considered to be educational? When it teaches us how education dollars are being wasted. And while property taxes are escalating, this is no time for public schools to be squandering dollars.

Houston Independent School District's superintendent was among those who recently said at a House Public Education Committee hearing in Austin that it was impossible to push more of the existing education dollars to the classroom. Superintendents across the state uniformly opposed reforms that provide fiscal transparency and put more dollars into the classroom. Mind you, HISD has more than 2,000 more nonteaching staff, representing clearly misplaced education spending priorities. And when numbers of schools in the district are rated academically unacceptable, it is clear reforms are needed.

HISD is not alone. Texas spending on instruction is below the national average. Texas schools' average classroom spending is 60.4 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, ranking Texas 29th in the nation. At 58 percent, HISD is spending even less than the state average on instruction.

The reform students, teachers and taxpayers need is "the 65 percent solution."

This simple concept directs 65 percent of the existing education spending into the classroom, which includes all credit courses and enrichment programs.

Gov. Rick Perry has championed the "65 percent solution" and House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf embraced the measure. But with the education bureaucracy lobby opposing it, the legislation didn't pass. So the governor is using executive order to put 65 percent into the classroom.

The move from 60.4 percent to 65 percent seems like small change. How much difference can 4.6 cents make? This small change will add up to big change in our schools. It would put $1.6 billion more a year into Texas classrooms without a tax increase.

The initiative has tremendous support. Polling found 77.5 percent of Texans surveyed support the 65 percent requirement on school districts; 91 percent support it after learning it would put an additional $1.6 billion into Texas classrooms without a tax increase; and 89 percent said they were more likely to support a candidate that supported the 65 percent requirement.

A survey by the Tower Institute conducted in January found 63 percent would consider increasing the percentage of money spent in the classroom, without any additional dollars added to the system, to be an increase in public education spending.

While support is widespread, strangely absent from efforts to put more of the funding in the classroom is the education lobby.

Students and teachers will benefit most from Texas schools spending 65 percent on instruction.

One would think teachers, frustrated with the pork-laden gravy train many superintendents have enjoyed, would be clamoring for the measure. But there has been no visible support from the education lobby.

One reason rests firmly on the shoulders of the taxpayer-funded lobbying by administrators, particularly superintendents. Texas superintendent salaries have grown as much as 77 percent in five years.

More than 200 Texas school districts are already spending 65 percent in the classroom. It is a realistic goal that would put our dollars where our priorities are in the classroom.

As Perry has said, "The measure of our success is not whether we provide more money for education but more education for our money."

Venable is former a White House liaison for the U.S. Department of Education and is currently Texas director for the citizen group Americans for Prosperity.

1 comment:

  1. Angela, this one started in Arizona... where it immediately busted. I am certain we will see it next legislative session. Here are a couple of posts (1, 2) I made about it toward the end of last legislative session.

    The problem is that "money inside the classroom" does not include nurses, counselors, security guards, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc. You cannot cut services to schools in order to increase efficiency.

    It's not honest reform when you move around the money inside an undefunded system.