Bring Out Your Dustbins for the Overhyped 65% Solution (at Least in Georgia)

Education policy gurus, brandish your dustbins. Last week Mike Antonucci brought attention to a report from Georgia that the state is looking to abandon the once vaunted “65% Solution,” the idea (popular circa 2005-06) that schools should be required to spend 65 percent of funds “in the classroom.” Antonucci writes:

This made for useful sound bites, but was always problematic because the definition of classroom spending was amorphous. Principals and curriculum specialists weren’t classroom spending, but teachers’ dental benefits were. There was bound to be a lot of cheating to reach the magic number. Unions hated it. And even though unions hated it, I didn’t like it either. In 2006, I wrote that I remained “doubtful that meeting such a threshold has any effect on the quality of instruction or on student performance.”

Very similar points were made by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow when Colorado’s Amendment 39 and Referendum J were on the ballot in 2006 — before my time. He noted that unions and established interest groups were on the right side of the issue, if largely for the wrong reasons. While the proposals crashed and burned here in Colorado, apparently a few other states like Georgia latched on.

The “65% Solution” still had enough mojo to emerge as part of a Florida ballot initiative package in 2008. In one of my first-ever postings here, I speculated about the danger of mixing good & bad policy for short-term political benefit. Since then, though, the report from Georgia is the first I’ve heard on the issue.

Another lesson? Not all reform fads are good. The so-called 65% Solution neglected the root of a systemic problem in K-12 education. Reshuffling dollars spent with new bureaucratic titles or accounting categories sells the problem short. Let the money follow the student based on need and parental choice, and we won’t need to worry about changing state law or the constitution to require certain shares of K-12 dollars fall into a certain category.

That would be change we could all rally behind. No dustbins needed.