School Administrators Fight Spending Initiatives
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Supporters of a popular voter initiative say they know how to boost education funding without borrowing money or raising taxes. They say the answer is to mandate at least 65 percent of all education funding goes to the classroom and not to administrative costs. State educators have been fighting the proposal, saying they will end up hurting schools.
NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Colorado state Representative Joe Stengel says his state keeps raising the education budget, but that money just seems to end up in a black hole. The reason…
Mr. JOE STENGEL (Republican, Colorado General Assembly): The number of bureaucrats is endless.
ABRAMSON: Stengel, a Republican, says state and local administrators gobble up that money rather than hiring new teachers or improving instruction. So he's backing Amendment 39 on the state ballot, a proposal to require that 65 cents out of every education dollar be used for teachers, textbooks and other things that, in his words, touch the children.
Mr. STENGEL: Do we need two or three curriculum directors in a school district? Do we need four directors of instruction in a particular district? We're focused on the bureaucracy rather than our kids and our teachers.
ABRAMSON: Stengel says the 65 percent approach would redirect half a billion dollars in education spending in Colorado. It's a catchy idea that fits well into a 30-second campaign commercial.
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Unidentified Man #1: All our schools - administration here, classrooms over there.
ABRAMSON: In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell says if he's elected governor he'll back the 65 percent solution.
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Unidentified Man #1: Moving $1.2 billion here to the classroom without raising property taxes. More money for teachers, books, computers. Our children need to be ready for a world economy. That happens here.
ABRAMSON: Republican candidates in other states have made similar promises. Georgia has already passed the idea into law and Texas has authorized 65 percent spending through an executive order. As the Texas plan is being phased in, superintendents of small districts are still trying to figure out how they'll cope.
Rickey Williams is head of the Devine School District, which educates about 2,000 kids just southwest of San Antonio. He says he's not sure how he'll manage the cost of things he can't control, like buying fuel for his school bus fleet.
Mr. RICKEY WILLIAMS (Superintendent, Divine School District): If we have another Hurricane Katrina or another Hurricane Rita or higher diesel prices, as of right now, we don't think that that would take into account having to use more revenue for those higher prices.
ABRAMSON: Florida has rejected the proposal, but Republican Charlie Crist wants to revive it if he's elected governor. Joy Frank, with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, hopes the idea stays dead because she says it's very hard to define what a classroom service really is.
Ms. JOY FRANK: (Legislative Liaison, Florida Association of District School Superintendents): Definitions that have been talked about before really do not include your librarians, do not include your school guidance counselors, do not include necessarily the reading coaches and math coaches, which has been really essential in Florida for raising our test scores.
ABRAMSON: While several states have voted against 65 percent spending, the issue keeps reappearing, thanks in part to a group called First Class Education. It's the brainchild of Patrick Byrne, the eccentric entrepreneur behind Overstock.com. Spokesman Tim Mooney says he knows why administrators are fighting these measures.
Mr. TIM MOONEY (Spokesman, First Class Education): They don't want to be accountable for how they spend money.
ABRAMSON: The outcome of the Colorado referendum may be the most definitive sign of whether voters feel this silver bullet for education spending is pointed in the right direction.
Larry Abramson, NPR News.
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