DENVER " Colorado voters may be first in the nation to decide on a national initiative that requires school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on direct classroom instruction.
Republican legislators in Colorado spearheaded the drive to collect more than 100,000 signatures on a petition to include the initiative on November's ballot as a state constitutional amendment. Gov. Bill Owens publicly added his name to the petition last week. Republican gubernatorial hopefuls U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman, and former Republican senate candidate Pete Coors, are among those serving as state co-chairs of the Colorado campaign.
The nationwide movement, known as "the 65 percent solution," started last year with the founding of First Class Education, a national nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to passing the initiative in all 50 states.
According to First Class spokesman Tim Mooney, a self-described Republican political consultant from Arizona, the initiative has been enacted in four states so far: in Louisiana, Kansas and Georgia by the state legislatures and in Texas by executive order of Gov. Rick Perry.
Colorado is the first state to collect petition signatures, Mooney said. Similar ballot initiatives are being proposed in Washington, Oregon and Ohio for the fall 2006 general election.
A bill similar to the ballot initiative was introduced in the Colorado legislature last spring by House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, but was tabled in committee. The move to place the question on the ballot is an attempt to appeal directly to voters, Mooney said.
The initiative is based on the definition of "classroom instruction" as formulated by the National Center for Education Statistics. The Center excludes administration, building maintenance, food, transportation and various student support services, including nurses, counselors and therapists, from its definition.
Under the provisions of the initiative, school districts would be required to spend 65 percent of their operating budgets " not counting any capital expenses such as new buildings " on classroom instruction by 2008. Unspecified sanctions could be applied by the state to any district not reaching this level.
According to an National Center for Education Statistics report released last year, only four states meet the requirement. Colorado ranks in the bottom five states nationally, with only 57.3 percent of its education dollars spent in the classroom. First Class Education estimates raising the percentage in Colorado would move nearly $500 million into the classroom without any tax increase.
Supporters of the initiative say putting more money in the classroom will improve test scores and decrease unnecessary spending.
Critics of the proposal include school boards, teacher organizations and administrators. Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said a one-size-fits-all approach to school spending is not always the best solution.
"The movement does seek to tie the hands of local school districts," he said. School districts vary widely in composition, he added, and have their own expenditure patterns based on climate, geography and types of students.
The assumption that increased classroom spending improves test scores has also been a subject of debate. In 2005, a Standard and Poor study, commissioned by the National Education Data Partnership, found no correlation between instructional spending at 65 percent or any other level and student performance.
Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.