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The '65 Percent Solution' Still Wrong

Though Informed, Some ESPs Persist in Supporting a Bogus Plan

Dave Arnold 

I heard a story about a new minister who on his first Sunday in church preached an outstanding sermon on repentance.

The congregation was impressed. On the subsequent Sunday, he preached the same message. While remaining respectful, one brave parishioner asked him if he knew that he had given them the same message previously.

The preacher said, "Yes, I know, but none of you repented so I thought that it hadn't sunk in."

This story came to mind after I read a recent NEA survey about education support professionals (ESPs) and how we overwhelmingly support the "65 percent solution." This "solution" is more of delusion that would require all school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their money on classroom instruction.

I can see how this might sound good to ESPs, who I know have the best intentions when it comes to supporting schools and students. But this 65 percent formula is wrong.

Let's look at who is behind it. It is the brainchild of a group of powerful lobbyists known as "Education First." This group is largely comprised of members from large corporations and self-interested businesses. They are simply looking for a way in which they can escape tax increases by proposing that 65 percent of all school funding be spent in the classroom.

Take Heed

I thought ESPs knew this from countless reports and news stories, especially from Colorado and Oklahoma where Association members have fought the plan tooth and nail. NEA and the American Federation of Teachers are working together to defeat 65 percent referenda in these and other states.

But I guess it hasn't sunk in, so I feel compelled to preach the same sermon again, except with new information provided by the National Education Association's survey of 1,000 ESPs conducted in August. I hope it helps the un-converted to see the light.

I made my strongest case against the formula in a column titled, "Our Enemies Never Sleep ."  I alluded to the fact that kind-hearted people would be certain to endorse the concept of spending more money in the classroom. But as I have mentioned in several columns, when you delve beneath the surface of the so-called "solution," it does not give schools more money. It only mandates how the money is to be used.

Don't Be Fooled

The idea of schools being required to spend 65 percent of their revenue in the classroom might be feasible if all schools were exactly the same, with healthy students and new buildings.

However, in the real world, we know that one size cannot fit all. Some schools are embarrassingly old and in need of more maintenance than newer structures. Also, students with disabilities require more attention and aid to meet their needs. These activities fall outside the realm of the classroom. 

According to the NEA survey: "Members also agree there is no silver bullet to education reform and that a spending formula is not a panacea. A fragmented, changing, atomistic culture; more broken homes - these are issues that profoundly affect the conditions of teaching and learning but have nothing to do with spending ratios. Such things simply cannot be quantified."

It's Common Sense

When it is required that a school spend 65 percent of its revenue in the classroom, you can be certain that other areas will suffer. Other areas may even receive undeserved budget cuts. Because some schools will find it necessary to make budget cuts under this mandate, children will suffer most. For example:

  • Internet services could be cut, including computer technicians
  • Library services could be reduced
  • Security services could be compromised
  • Guidance counselors and nurses could lose their jobs
  • Transportation services could be reduced

Building a quality education system cannot be accomplished by making cuts in operational services. If we are to provide a quality education, we must have quality transportation, clerical and maintenance services.

For an ESP to support anything less would be the equivalent of a tree trimmer cutting off the limb upon which he is sitting. It's suicide. For those who have not heard the message, here it is again.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.