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65 percent the solution for Oregon schools

Guest column: Carol York

Pick any child climbing on the school bus this morning and they are likely bound for a classroom full of at least 25 classmates. Teachers drinking their first cup of coffee are contemplating how to shed light on the complexity of multiplication tables to a group of 30 rambunctious 9-year-olds, a daunting task in the face of the nation's second largest average class size. Every Oregon classroom could use another teacher or instructional aide.

This might sound like the preamble to another local bond or levy. But a new idea is surfacing to put additional dollars into the classroom, without the burden of additional taxes. The '65 percent solution' would require that at least 65 cents of every educational dollar be spent on direct classroom instruction. More money for classroom instruction means new teachers, more instructional aides, additional instructional supplies, computers and more art, music, sports and field trips.

Oregon currently spends 59 cents of every education dollar in the classroom, while $.41 is spent on administration, operations and transportation. By increasing the amount spent per dollar in the classroom to at least 65 cents, Oregon schools would have $240 million additional to spend on teachers, computers and broader instructional programs, money that right now is getting siphoned away.

Some will try to tell you that Oregon already spends more than 65 percent on in-classroom instruction. However, they aren't comparing apples to apples. We all need to apply the same definitions of in-classroom instruction. I use National Center for Education Statistics criteria on this issue, whereas the Chalkboard Project adds things like attendance officers and community services. If you set a broad enough definition of what 'in-classroom' means, you can make that percentage as high as you want. We should count only things that are involved daily in our children's learning process. Bottom line - not enough money is reaching our classrooms, which is why Oregon is ranked 40th in the nation when it comes to the percentage for in-classroom spending.

We have all read the occasional school funding horror story, such as golden parachutes for retiring administrators or excessive travel allowances. While class sizes continue to escalate, this is mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and robbery of a student's right to learn in the most productive classroom setting possible. These are the type of inappropriate expenditures that the 65 percent solution hopes to address.

We should all be proud of the job our local schools do working with limited means to provide quality education to our kids. However, not all school districts are such pictures of administrative efficiency. We must give school administrators around Oregon the tools to demand accountability and efficiency.

Oregon's future is determined every day in the classroom. Our economic strength depends on the ability of our youngest minds to compete with the future leaders of India and China. Oregon wants to invest in tangible, results-oriented ways in the minds of Oregon children. Putting at least 65 percent of education spending in the classroom, where funding matters most, is just such an investment.

Carol York is the Republican challenger for the Senate District 26 seat.