Several weeks ago Bob McDonnell and I announced a bold, new education funding proposal to increase classroom spending by $484 million annually without raising taxes. We would do this by transferring money from the central office bureaucracy to the classroom.
According to the most recent federal guidelines, Virginia currently spends 61% of our education dollars in the classroom. The fact that Virginia spends nearly 40% of our education dollars in the central office bureaucracy, instead of the classroom, is a disservice to Virginia students and teachers.
The McDonnell/Bolling proposal is simple - increase instructional spending from 61% to 65% by shifting an average of 4% over 4 years from the central office to the classroom. This would provide an additional $484 million to increase teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, improve textbooks and technology, etc.
Our children will get the best education by having the best teachers, best textbooks and best technology in the classroom, not by having excessive spending on administration and bureaucracy. Students learn in the classroom, not in the central office.
We need to focus as much of our money as possible in the classroom to give our children the knowledge and skills they need to compete for the high-quality jobs of the future.
On average local school districts would be required to increase the percentage of classroom spending by 1% per year during the four years of the McDonnell/Bolling administration. Each district would be given the flexibility to determine the best way to reach this goal in their locality.
This is a reasonable and attainable goal that will provide the best results for our children. In fact, sixteen cities and counties - large and small; urban, suburban and rural - have already met the challenge.
Unfortunately, not all school districts spend their education resources efficiently. Several localities actually spend less than 50% in on classroom instruction.
To suggest that waste does exist is the central office and that we cannot direct more of our existing educational dollars to the classroom is simply not true. It can be done if we make it a priority.
While a vast majority of Virginians support increasing instructional spending by shifting money from the central office to the classroom, our Democratic opponents and certain members of the education establishment have been critical of the McDonnell/Bolling plan.
They claim that Virginia is already spending 64.5% in the classroom. Under the state’s broad definition of classroom spending, this is true. However, the state considers expenditures such as “office of the principal”, “social work services” and “media services” as instructional spending. While these may be worthwhile expenditures, we do not consider them classroom expenditures.
The McDonnell/Bolling plan uses a more sensible, nationally-uniform federal definition of instructional spending, which includes activities dealing with interaction of teachers and students in the classroom, such as teacher salaries, textbooks, equipment, co-curricular activities and activities of teachers and teaching assistants engaged in regular instruction, special education and vocational education programs.
However, whether we move from 61% to 65% or from 64% to 68%, we need to dedicate more dollars to the things that help children learn - teachers, text books and technology. Unfortunately, our opponents’ only solution is throwing more money at the whole system instead of prioritizing expenditures to meet the needs of teachers and students.
Our critics also claim that there is no relationship between 65% classroom spending and student performance. While we have never claimed that 65% classroom spending is the panacea to our education ills, test results prove that student performance improves when more money is spent in the classroom. For example:
- 15 of the top 20 school districts with the highest average on the English/Science/Math Proficiency federal benchmarks spent at least 65% in the classroom.
- 17 of the top 20 school districts with the highest average on the English Proficiency federal benchmarks spent at least 65% in the classroom.
- 13 of the top 20 school districts with the highest average on the Math Proficiency federal benchmarks spent at least 65% in the classroom.
- 18 of the top 20 school districts with the highest average on the Science Proficiency federal benchmarks spent at least 65% in the classroom.
Unfortunately, critics of the McDonnell/Bolling plan are largely members of the education establishment and the politicians beholden to them. We understand that they may have something to lose if our plan impacts the status quo, but they should not let their own self-interest stand in the way of providing a better education to our children.
No one should disagree that our goal should be to put more money in the classroom.
The McDonnell/Bolling plan to redirect $484 million from the central office to the classroom will better position our schools to provide our children with a first class, world class education - an education that will give them the skills they need to compete for high-quality jobs in the global marketplace of the 21st Century.
Bill Bolling is the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and is running for re-election on the Republican ticket against Jody Wagner.