Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Saturday, October 07, 2006

65 Percent Solution is a 35 Percent Problem (Colorado Amendment 39 and Referendum J)

Two issues on the Colorado November ballot attempt to codify the amount of money spent by school districts on so-called direct classroom expenses. Amendment 39 is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, while Referendum J is an attempt by the state legislature to present a slightly more palatable option. Both specify that school districts must spend at least 65% of their budgets on such expenses (although the two differ in the definition of classroom expenses).

My first question, which I have not heard answered by anybody, is why 65%? Has there been some magical study that showed that spending at least that percentage better teaches our children? Or was that number just pulled out of somebody's hat to create a rallying cry?

If Amendment 39 passes, 166 school districts across the state (out of a total of 178) will somehow have to come up with a combined total of $278 million annually. That's $1.7 million each year for the average district. But these districts won't easily be able to raise the additional revenue, so what it really means is forced budget cuts across the board in "non-educational" areas.

Supporters of Amendment 39 would have you believe that it will magically increase spending in the classroom without increasing taxes. It will not. It is a stealth measure to cut public school spending.

What does this mean? Expect any and all of the following:
  • Firing principals, nurses, counselors, bus drivers, and food service workers

  • Eliminating teacher training

  • No cuts in student testing (which is mandated by law)

  • Drastic cuts in college placement, health services, food services, and transportation

  • School boards are probably safe, but expect public pressure for them to eliminate meals at meetings or some other drivel

  • Deferring building maintenance and repair, as well as new construction

  • Major cuts to school administration (this includes things like paying teachers and buying computers)
None of these cuts will be acceptable to the public, and so then what happens? Currently, about 8% of school budgets are already earmarked, which leaves a small group of spending areas that will have to be hit hard.

What about Ref J? In its favor, it wisely puts this rule into a state statute, which at least allows tuning the process as we learn about all the pitfalls to come. And it includes more types of expenses as classroom expenses (specifically principals and support staff). This means that most districts would be compliant at the start: Only three districts would have to make up a total of about a million dollars per year. But it still has the same fundamental problem of defining an arbitrary spending level for every single school district in the state.

In both cases, this is an example of the state trying to shoehorn a one-size fits all solution onto everybody, without regard for local concerns. There is no compensation for different local requirements for transportation, school lunches, utilities, and other expenses that may vary widely.

Ref J at least allows local voters to opt out of this arrangements. Any school district could by simple vote remove itself from having to meet the 65% rule. But Amendment 39 has no such safety clause.

There's another difference that jumps out at you if you read these two measures. Amendment 39 is obviously written by a bunch of ideologues trying to force their world view on the rest of us. Referendum J, as it was written by experienced lawmakers, at least has the appearance of considering all of the impacts, contradictions, and potential confusion of the measure.

So, what happens if a school district doesn't meet these new rules? They can always apply for a waiver, which may or may not be granted. If it is, they have another year to comply or to file for another waiver. If the waiver isn't granted, well, then unspecified sanctions just might be applied by the general assembly.

Or not.

Vote no on Amendment 39. If you strongly support this issue, vote for Referendum J as the lesser of two evils, but I'm voting no.

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