Monday, October 31, 2005

65% -- Screw the Schools or Die Tryin'

I've reported before that Ken Blackwell has announced plans to advance a scheme to require schools to spend 65% of their budgets on classroom instruction. I also noted that this could be a not-entirely awful idea if done right, but it could also be an attempt to hose certain public ed stakeholders.

Now comes word that hosing was the idea all along. A Kansas City magazine got hold of an internal memo showing that 65% is a political ploy to divide and conquer public school advocates: obtained a First Class Education memo circulated among Republican
lawmakers in several states that lists "political benefits" by putting the 65 percent proposal on the ballot. The memo, first published by the Austin American-Statesman last month, says the proposal will "create tremendous tension" within state education unions by pitting administrators against teachers and will divert spending on other political goals of the "education establishment."

It says that backing the 65 percent plan will boost Republicans' credibility on education issues and make it easier to build support for charter schools and school vouchers, which "the voting public -- especially suburban, affluent women voters -- view as an abandonment of public education."

We've reached a new milestone in craven political calculation. Will 65% hurt high-functioning suburban schools? Maybe, but who cares! As long as we can peel off more suburban moms from voting for Democrats, screw their kids.

Especially disturbing to me is the inclusion of food services into the calculation. Lunch and breakfast programs exist entirely separately from the rest of school operating budgets. Often they are funded by entirely different departments. The Federal lunch program, for example, is funded by the Department of Agriculture. Cutting money from food service line items will not free that money for classroom instruction, but will hurt poor families who rely on those programs to feed their kids. And because having a breakfast programs for poor kids increases the food service budget, districts with more poor kids will have a harder time staying above the 65% floor.

In the KC article notes, for example, that in DC less than 50% of the budget is spent in-classroom. I can't help but wonder how that looks when you factor out food programs.