Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The 65 percent solution 

The Christian Science Monitor reports that a new fad in education funding is dedicating a certain share of state spending on education to classroom instruction. They call it the "65-percent solution". Here in Minnesota, Governor Pawlenty has upped the ante to 70%. I had wondered how tightly he was going to define "classroom instruction"; now we know.
Under the proposal, classroom expenditures would include classroom teachers and personnel (salary and benefits), special education, vocational education, classroom instructional 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.
Pawlenty's press release says under those definitions, on average Minnesota school districts spend 69.2% on classroom instruction. Here's a spreadsheet showing the calculations for each district. I ask, what's magic about 65% or 70%? Larger districts have scale economies and scale diseconomies. We know that cities tend to have higher per-pupil spending, and since they likely have more special ed students, their share of spending in instruction is likely larger. Sure enough, Minneapolis and St. Paul are comfortably above this line. Duluth and Rochester are a little below; Roseville is the largest metro-area district that is well below.

It seems like a one-size-fits-all solution; as the CSM article points out as well, while we know there's a correlation between state spending shares on classroom instruction and performance, we don't know if that correlation holds up at the local level.

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