65 Percent Solution
The "65 percent solution" is a scheme being promoted nationally by a Washington, D.C.-based organization called First Class Education (FCE). FCE's goal is to enact legislation or pass a ballot measure in every state mandating that school districts spend 65 percent of their budgets on "classroom instruction."
Proponents claim that the measure will reduce school "waste" while improving student achievement. They also claim that it will increase money for schools without requiring an increase in overall spending or taxes.
In reality, however, the 65 percent initiative is no solution at all. Rather, it is 100 percent deception, a simplistic and arbitrary gimmick that will actually harm schools and students.
At the heart of the measure's flaws is its narrow and misleading definition of "classroom instruction." This definition is arbitrarily based on the definition of "Instruction Expenditures" used by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a federal agency that collects and reports data on school district spending. For accounting and descriptive purposes, NCES divides spending data into broad categories such as instruction, student support services and instruction support services. The agency refrains, however, from making any value judgments about what percentage of school budgets should go to each category, nor has it ever intended its categories to be the basis for making public policy.
And this is for good reason. While NCES's "instruction" definition includes the costs of teachers, teacher assistants and most classroom supplies, it excludes staff and program costs for numerous essential services that support and sustain instruction. Services left out by the definition include libraries, guidance counselors, school nurses and healthcare, professional development, food and nutrition, transportation, custodial work and building maintenance and security—i.e., the very services that make classroom learning possible in the first place.
The top-down, one-size-fits-all 65 percent mandate would clearly hurt our schools. The measure would undermine local control of schools; force cuts in vital school support services proven to help kids stay healthy and learn; and ignore the varying needs of individual school districts, especially urban and rural districts, which tend to have higher out-of-classroom expenses.
What's more, two comprehensive studies by Standard & Poor's (see links at right) have concluded that there is no correlation between setting "classroom instruction" spending at 65 percent and higher student achievement. In fact, the researchers found that many districts that spend less than 65 percent in the classroom do quite well on state tests, while others that exceed 65 percent do poorly.
The resources at right provide additional information on the misleading measure, including its negative implications for schools and students.