Requiring school districts to spend more money in the classroom seems to offer a powerful solution to the problems of public education. But a closer look shows the approach won’t be as effective as some would hope.
Colorado voters this year are faced with dueling proposals to dictate local school spending: Amendment 39 and Referendum J. In the end, neither can be expected to make much of an impact. Yet the one that has the slightest potential to make a real effect has drawn fire from unions and school officials.
The national advocacy group First Class Education gathered more than 100,000 Coloradans’ signatures to put Amendment 39 on the ballot. Only 12 of the state’s 178 school districts already meet the proposal’s mandate that school districts spend 65 percent of their operating budgets on “classroom instruction”–including teachers and classroom aides, textbooks, instructional supplies, tutoring, libraries, field trips, athletics, and purchased instructional services.
If enforced, the measure would shift an estimated $278 million of current education spending into these areas. Yet little could stop most school districts from merely hiring another bureaucrat to reconfigure the chart of accounts or rename job titles to meet the mandate.
A reader who browses through the Colorado Department of Education’s thick chart of accounts can get an idea of how easily school budgets can be manipulated.
Of course, it is possible that some school boards actually would eliminate some administrative staff positions (many of which were created to comply with federal regulations) in order to hire more teachers. They also might offer salary bonuses to their existing faculty or buy more textbooks and classroom computers. Maybe they would cut non-instructional costs through competitive contracting for services like maintenance or trash removal.
Regardless of what a school board might do in response, no connection has been found between the