School districts which are designated to participate in a pilot project spawned by a Republican education proposal will have to put 90 percent of their funding directly into the classroom, spending it only on teachers, teachers aides and classroom supplies.
The program, originally proposed by the State Senate Republican caucus and Senate Minority Leader Mark Snyder last week, was being drafted into legislation Monday in hopes of bringing it before the full Senate Tuesday. The measure's authors, Senator Mike Morgan and Senator Cal Hobson, are clarifying the definition of "classroom," citing misconceptions voiced by some school superintendents over the weekend.
"When Senator Snyder said 'classroom,' he meant 'classroom' and nothing else. If the money isn't being used specifically to teach students in class in a school building, it won't count toward the 90 percent figure," said Senator Morgan.
"That's the way Republican Senators have defined this issue and we want to be true to their reform vision. It was their idea after all," added Senator Hobson.
Under the legislation, the 90 percent classroom funding initiative will be tested as a pilot project in the school districts of several Republican legislators. When it was first announced last Friday, some of the affected school superintendents indicated they might already be complying with the 90 percent decree, assuming such things as custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers could be counted as "classroom" expenditures.
Both Senate authors, however, were quick to point out that such costs would not come under the definition of "classroom" in their legislation.
"I think it defeats the purpose of the original Republican reform proposal if we let superintendents count everything and the kitchen sink as a classroom expenditure, especially when those things clearly aren't being used to teach kids. The idea is to get more dollars into the classroom, not just to juggle a few numbers around on paper," said Senator Morgan.
The Stillwater lawmaker noted that in proposing the 90 percent initiative, Senate Minority Leader Snyder was quite clear on the subject, saying "This will ensure that 90 percent of the budget will go into the classroom and not in bureaucrats' pockets."
Although Senate Republicans have indicated their proposal can be implemented with relative ease, Senator Hobson is skeptical.
"I don't think the 90 percent classroom expenditure figure is going to be an easy target for any school to hit. I expect to see some major budget reallocations and more than a little bit of stress in the pilot school districts. If this were supposed to be easy and painless, we'd be asking every school district to do it without conducting a pilot experiment," noted Senator Hobson.
As it stands, twelve school districts have been given the opportunity to participate in the Republican pilot project. The figure in parentheses represents the percentage of money the schools are currently directing to the classroom:
Edmond Public Schools (59%)
Putnam City Public Schools (60%)
Moore Public Schools (63%)
Yukon Public Schools (62%)
Tulsa Union Public Schools (58%)
Hennessey Public Schools (61%
Bartlesville Public Schools (59%)
Waukomis Public Schools (62%)
Kingfisher Public Schools (63%)
Bethany Public Schools (53%)
Deer Creek Public Schools (64%)
Woodward Public Schools (65%)
Hobson and Morgan have made it clear that they are open to adding Republican districts to the list. So far, none have come forward to volunteer.
"If the Republicans are really serious about the proposal they've made, they'll embrace it with open arms. If they've just been engaging in political rhetoric, then I expect they'll try to run away from it. This may be a revolutionary measure or an ill-conceived idea for education reform. Time will tell," said Senator Hobson.