Group backs school spending plan
12/27/06 12:00AM Ben Embry
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(Host) A group of Vermonters is backing a plan urging school districts to spend at least 65% of their budgets on classroom expenses.
But critics of the plan are calling it a bit of "political gimmickry" and fear it could prevent districts from addressing individual needs.
VPR's Ben Embry reports:
(Embry) The proposal is called "First Class Education for Vermont."
The group wants to put more money into classrooms by cutting back on administrative expenses and other costs not tied directly to teaching.
Curtis Hier is a history teacher at Fair Haven Union High School and co-founder of the group in Vermont. He says schools are spending too much on administration costs and superfluous jobs.
(Hier) "For the last three years, administrative overhead has gone up 88% or something like that. I've seen different figures. But what I've noticed, as a teacher, I mean, I see it all around me, we have so many support staff and so many administrators and so many clerical workers. You know, meanwhile, we're cutting academic programs. We've cut a science teacher. We've cut a math teacher. We've cut an industrial arts teacher. And it just doesn't seem to be about the kids as much as it used to."
(Embry) Right now, Vermont spends more than one billion dollars on public schools. Just over 61% of that goes for classroom expenses, such as teacher salaries, student computers and after-school activities.
But critics of the plan say those numbers don't take into account vital support staff like guidance counselors, nurses or librarians.
Joel Cook is the Executive Director of the Vermont-NEA.
(Cook) "We have librarians in schools for a reason. We have guidance counselors in schools for a reason. We have all of these services in our schools for reasons. Nobody's making up the needs that our kids have and that our schools have. And local school boards are in the best position to allocate whatever resources they have."
(Embry) The proposal is the brainchild of Patrick Byrne, founder of Overstock.com. So far, Byrne's had success in Texas where it's now mandatory.
Lawmakers in Louisiana and Kansas adopted the plan, but it's not a requirement.
According to the group's figures, raising the state's classroom related expenses to 65% would inject more than $40 million into Vermont classrooms.
But a leaked memo from the national group also lists a series of political benefits of putting the 65% plan up for public debate.
The memo says the issue will create rivalries between teachers and administrators while boosting Republicans' political credibility on education issues.
Because of the memo and other political tactics used by the group around the country, Hier says he plans to distance his group from the national organization.
Still, critics say they're concerned that what may appear to be a boon for school budgets will actually hurt schools.
For VPR News, I'm Ben Embry.