65% Rule--More Than Reasonable

65% Rule--More Than Reasonable
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Terri Leo

Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order which directs 65 percent of school spending to go to the classroom. The Texas Commissioner of Education set up two task forces to decide exactly what is considered "classroom." One task force is composed of superintendents and one of citizens. I participated in the citizens' task force.

In my opinion there has been "much ado about nothing." The task force spent needless time trying to decide what should fall under the 65% definition. The National Center for Education Statistics ( NCES) has defined what expenses fall under the term "classroom." This definition has been used across the country. Why then does Texas even need a task force to define what has already been defined?

Most Texans have decided that we should embrace the NCES definition, but some superintendents say it just can't be done. It seems to me that the foxes no longer just want to be guarding the hen house; they now want to design the hen house. The superintendents are stunned to find that Texans like the NCES definition, which graciously even includes athletic expenses. After all, this is Texas !

Superintendents who fear the 65% rule should rethink their fears. Superintendents who say they are for kids but are against putting 65% of state education dollars into the classroom for those kids are sending the wrong message to the students, parents, and taxpayers they serve.

During the last legislative session, one superintendent opined, "The 65% rule would devastate my district." When he finished his hysterical ranting, someone pointed out to him that his district was already putting 65% into the classroom!

All of the local ISD's in my district are currently near or above the 65% level. Cypress Fairbanks with unique problems caused by tremendous growth still puts 68% in the classroom. Alief ISD is a district where many different languages and dialects are spoken; Alief is also at 68%. Houston ISD has many challenges, yet they are at 64%. Their superintendent is working hard to get that percentage even higher. This is the kind of can-do message that the citizens and taxpayers, who desperately want wise and transparent fiscal management in their states' public schools, need to hear. 

Kudos should go to those districts which are spending their time working toward the laudable goal of 65%. Many were doing so before Governor Perry's executive order. A large number of citizens have lost patience with those naysayer superintendents who want to include everything imaginable under the heading of "classroom." My advice, as a Texas State Board Member who serves at the mercy and good graces of the taxpayers and citizens, is to say to the superintendents, "Why don't all districts start working toward the 65% rule if for no other reason than to regain the public's trust? Your constituents are growing increasingly tired of excuses and are rightly demanding action ."

A few superintendents are already threatening to challenge the 65% rule in court. That will increase taxpayers' expenses by allowing public officials to use taxpayers' dollars to once again file court cases which in turn will cost taxpayers more money. Not surprisingly, these are the same superintendents who used taxpayers' dollars to pay for lobbyists to defeat the 65% rule during the past legislative session.

I am proud of those superintendents who have not wasted time whining about the fact that the majority of Texans are demanding more money be spent on the classroom. My faith is renewed every time I hear of a superintendent who is legitimately trying to put at the very minimum 65% of funding into the classroom. We need to applaud those efforts.

If some superintendents (and newspaper editorial boards) have their way, they would broaden the definition of what is "classroom" to include debt service, transportation, security, curriculum directors, assistant principals, nurses, counselors, librarians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, building maintenance, utilities, and on and on.

What many of us fear is that if these superintendents get the "flexibility" they want to define what "classroom" is, the 65% rule will wind up like that big fish in The Old Man and the Sea : It was a prize catch when first hooked, but there was little left but fin and bones after the sharks got at it.

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October 30th, 2005

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