Monday, August 29, 2005

The $64,000 Question About The 65% Rule

"How do you define direct classroom instruction?" This is a great article from the Lufkin Daily News and here's the full quote from the paragraph that includes the question above:
"How do you define direct classroom instruction?" Knight asked Friday. "What has people like me so anxious is that the first 65 percent proposal that was discussed in the Legislature was so narrow that school districts, especially those that are property poor, would be forced to cut essential services like building maintenance, security, basic custodial services and transportation.
The idea that many essentials will have to be cut to implement this is nothing new from what was previously known. Who's definition are we going to use? Well here is what the governor's executive order says:
The financial accountability and reporting system shall include an indicator establishing a requirement that 65 percent of school district funds be expended for instructional purposes as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Searching their website I can't find their definition, I sent an e-mail to them asking for their definition and as soon as I get it I will post it. If anyone konws their definition already please let me know. The best I can find so far is from this article, School districts not making funding grade, which is about how Kansas is faring so far with the 65% rule and it's not good news:
Under federal guidelines, schools cannot count for instructional purposes, monies spent on transportation, administration, food service, construction, maintenance, repairs or support services such as nurses, librarians and counselors.
Now back to Texas. One of the problems with the 65% rule is the rise in gas prices which will drive up transportation costs. It also may make them rethink things like this:
Giving an example of a way Lufkin ISD may be forced to cut transportation costs, he (Mr. Knight) pointed to the school board's recent decision to allow Lufkin Middle School students who live on the west side of Timberland Drive to ride the bus to school, even if they live within the two-mile limit. He said school officials chose to go that route because of concerns about the safety of students having to cross a busy street.
Safety, schmafety! Not to worry though the governor has appointed a task force headed by Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley and she is promising, "...there will be no secrets or surprises about the way Texas will measure direct classroom spending." We'll see about that. The task force has at least one problem though, it has no members from small school districts:
Smith wrote that one thing "jumps out" when one looks at the task force's members. He said Livingston ISD is the smallest school district represented, adding that according to the Comptroller School District Watch List, Livingston ISD is the 188th largest district in Texas. That means there are 843 districts in the state that are smaller than LISD, Smith said.
This plan has also been unable to pass the legislature:
Knight said from what he understood, the 65 percent rule was dropped from the Legislature's proposed school reform bills after state lawmakers looked into the issue and determined that such a mandate could negatively impact some of Texas' students.
That's not the 65% rules only problem though:
During his interview, Knight said many of the state's superintendents are raising questions about whether Perry's executive order is constitutional. He said that, eventually, someone in education may file a legal challenge on those grounds
So in an effort to get our state education system out of the courts the governor's plan will probably put us right back there. This is leadership? I don't think so.

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