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Keep Focus on Performance Not 65% Solution, PAR Says

A proposal to force school districts to spend a minimum share of their operating budgets in the classroom should be rejected. A 65% instructional spending requirement for Louisiana school districts would reduce the flexibility of education funding likely without providing any boost to student performance, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) says in its report “Education Finance Reform: A 65% Solution?” released today.

“While it would be nice to think that such a simplistic approach could improve education in Louisiana, the evidence indicates otherwise,” said Jim Brandt, PAR president. “Education reform requires more than quick fixes and catchy slogans. When it comes to improving student achievement, this proposal is short on substance.”

The 65% Solution, a nationally advocated proposal, would require school districts to allocate at least 65% of operating expenditures on instruction. Supporters argue that the proposal would increase the amount of money spent in the classroom without raising taxes and would reduce wasteful costs. Legislators are currently considering a move to adopt the 65% Solution as part of the state’s education funding formula.

The PAR report provides a review of current Louisiana school district spending and an analysis of the implications of the 65% Solution. According to the report, Louisiana compares well with national and southern regional average shares of expenditures going to instruction. The national average for instructional spending as a percent of total operating expenditures in 2002-2003 was 61.3%, only slightly above Louisiana’s 60.7%. Of all 50 states, only two – New York and Maine – reached the threshold of the 65% Solution based on total operating expenditures. Within Louisiana, most school districts spent more than 60% of general fund operating expenditures on instruction in 2003-2004, but only 23 out of 68 met the proposed 65% target.

The analysis in this report also indicates that higher percentages of instructional spending do not necessarily lead to higher student performance. Several of Louisiana’s districts with the highest rates of proficiency in language and math spend less than 65% of general fund expenditures on instruction, while others spend over 65% and receive meager achievement results in return. For example, Franklin Parish spends over 68% on instruction, but fewer than half of 4th and 8th graders achieve proficiency on required LEAP exams. West Feliciana Parish, on the other hand, spends well under the 65% target on instruction, but the district has a proficiency rate over 71% – the fifth highest in the state.

“Ultimately, the goal of an education system should be student achievement,” Brandt said. “All other issues, including teacher pay, class size, support services, funding formulas and instructional spending requirements, are merely potential means to that end. Districts should be evaluated based upon student performance rather than spending allocations. The state should continue to mandate rigorous performance standards but allow spending flexibility, so districts can adjust to meet their unique sets of challenges.”

Funding for this research was provided by the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation, the Community Coffee Fund and Shell Exploration and Production Company.

For additional information or to obtain a copy of the report, write to PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776, call (225) 926-8414 or visit PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org.

For a copy of the report in PDF format click here.

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