Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blackwell Education Plan Panned by Reaganites

J. Ken Blackwell is certainly compiling an impressive list of policy proposals so bad that even Republicans hate them. Along side the TEL Amendment and soon to be joined by the Turnpike lease-financed New New Deal is his 65 Cent Solution for education. A group of education thinkers including Reagan's former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and a number of other Reagan-era DOE veterans has trashed the plan.

To review, the so-call 65% Solution is a law that requires schools to spend 65% of their operating budgets on in-classroom instruction. Administrative costs, plus other costs like food service, libraries (sometimes) and transportation count in the 35% limit on non-classroom spending.

Proponents claim it will free up money for classroom instruction without raising taxes. And it will, just like No Child Left Behind saying that kids have to pass tests has made that happen. That’s how life works – the government says that something will happen and *zap* it does.

As you can tell, I’m not down. I’ve covered the 65% proposal’s limitations here and here and the discovery that it is a fraud aimed to divide and conquer public education advocates here. You can also check out Strickland's press release and the Strickland blog.

If you don’t want to click through the links, here’s one example of the proposal’s poverty of thought. Consider two Federal programs that grant money to schools – Title I of the ESEA the school lunch program. In the 65% formulation, Title I monies, which funds programs aimed at economically disadvantaged kids ,are not included. That is, you subtract all these funds from the amount schools spend in classroom despite the fact that these funds are overwhelmingly used for classroom instruction.

On the other hand, all monies spent on food service are counted as out-of-classroom. All monies from the school lunch program – which feeds economically disadvantaged kids, but also has a considerable constituency as a subsidy for the food industry – count against the school district. Those moneys cannot be diverted to classroom instruction, but no matter – 65% says you have to offset that spending. This is just one example of how 65% stacks the deck against schools.

The bipartisan chorus attacking 65% is doing so for a reason – the shiny new 100% Solution proposed by Thomas Fordham Foundation, a free market think tank. The idea here is that 100% of the money “follows the child.” So when a kid moves from one school system to another, all the money associated with that kid – basically the budget of her home school system divided by the census – goes with her. I have a deep skepticism about the idea and will write up my misgivings at another time. For now, I’m interested in how this plays in the Gubernatorial campaign.

J. Ken campaigns hard on his ideas – ideas that would radically reshape the state. TEL was so widely repudiated that he had to agree to a legislative bailout to get it off his back. Now his only idea about education financing has been roundly condemned from right and left. He can’t just palm this opposition off on greedy teachers unions – indeed 65% was intended as a bone to lure the unions out of the education lobby fold. Instead William Bennett, the number one critic of teachers unions on the planet has signed off on a competing plan.

What’s more, the 100% plan is identical to Blackwell’s plan for higher education. Blackwell wants state higher ed funding to “follow the student.” On the one hand, he can hardly advocate for one plan for higher ed, then say it’s not the solution for K-12. On the other, he can hardly afford another reversal on one of his core platform points.

How should TED respond? So far so good. In the CD article he has a nice quote against 65%: "we ought to stop using our kids as ways to fight our political battle. This is a proposal that I think could be quite harmful. … Not everything that’s important to education necessarily happens within the four walls of the classroom."

I humbly submit some suggestions for how to handle this going forward:

  • Emphasize the broad bipartisan repudiation of 65%. Taunt Blackwell that he can’t come up with an idea that won’t get tossed over the side.

  • Put some numbers together about how 65% would disproportionately hurt schools serving poor urban kids. Those schools rely more on Title I monies and get more school lunch subsidies, both of which artificially drive their out-of-classroom costs above the threshold. To make ends meet, those schools will have to slash school counsellors, transportation, etc.

  • Declare some first principles. My favorites are:

    • Creating stable funding streams to allow school districts to plan.

    • Reducing inequities among districts

    • Building an accountability regime for both traditional schools and charters that goes beyond simple market accountability.

  • Go slow on 100%. This looks like a Trojan Horse proposal assmebled by charter honks. If Blackwell jumps on board, swamp the discussion with the complexities of 100%. It sounds simple, but unlike 65%, I believe the complexities are easy to make manifest. First and foremost, you tell voters that under this proposal kids open enrolling out of district take with them local property tax money.
Finally, what's Blackwell's response to all this. Apparently that Strickland wasn't in DC to vote for something that passed unimously. Damn that's rough.

POSTSCRIPT. Alert readers will notice that I've let Ted out of my personal doghouse. Probably at some time someone high profile will really piss me off and take up residence. For now I need a placeholder. Who better than local party boss Russ "Allergic to Grassroots" Pry? Or I should say R--s P-y.