COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The political fire still burns in Ohio to push more public money into classrooms, even after other states have backed off the idea amid evidence it does little to improve kids' grades.
The state's latest strategy is to mandate that district spending be winnowed from the existing five spending categories to two by 2013: classroom or non-classroom.
It's part of a push by Republican Gov. John Kasich to reduce overhead and direct funds to classroom instruction. In-classroom spending percentages eventually would appear on state report cards, alongside student test scores.
"It certainly doesn't require any particular funding one way or the other," said Barbara Shaner, co-executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials. "But the idea would be to call attention to it, so that people would be more judicious about putting more in the classroom and not being top-heavy."
In the past decade, some states adopted the so-called "65 percent solution," requiring that at least 65 percent of public education dollars be spent on classroom instruction. Ohio's 2006 Republican nominee for governor, Ken Blackwell, was among politicians who backed the idea, but it went nowhere in the state after Blackwell lost the election.
Many states have since adopted -- then rejected -- the mandate. Some found it unworkable to calculate, monitor and enforce. Others looked at a 2005 Standard & Poor's report and other evidence and deemed it an ineffective policy not worth the effort.
S&P could find no direct tie between how much money districts invested in categories directly linked to classroom instruction -- as opposed to administrative costs -- and higher student performance.
Even the originator of the 65 percent solution, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, now says it overreached. Byrne peddled the idea to lawmakers in statehouses across the country. Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, and Indiana all adopted or flirted with the idea.
"The 65 percent was never really the solution," Byrne now says. "It was a stopgap measure to keep things from getting worse."
Today, Byrne is pushing for states to adopt school voucher programs that use taxpayer dollars to send children to private schools.
Nationwide, Ohio ranks 46th on classroom spending and 12th on school administration by the Brookings Institution, spending 49 percent more than the national average on overhead.
Kasich continues to push the idea that increased classroom spending means better student performance. It was part of his message in a State of the State speech he historically took outside Columbus to Wells Academy in Steubenville, in eastern Ohio.
"Wells spends its money where it really needs to go and it's something we can all learn from," he said. "It directs its money to the classroom, and the teachers work together like doctors do in an operating room."
Ohio school officials are now deciding how to categorize teacher salaries, computers, guidance counselors, buses and other expenses in advance of reporting to parents what percentage of the school budget is spent on the classroom.
Eric Bode, executive director of Ohio's Office of Quality School Choice and Funding, said squeezing complex school budgets into a two-category system will be challenging.
"You and I might call teacher aides a classroom expense, though they're not the main teacher and they sometimes pull students out of the classroom to work with them," Bode said. "But there are a lot of different variations of that."
Are speech therapists and librarians "classroom" instructors or part of the office staff? Does a building-wide computer upgrade that serves teachers and students at the classroom level, as well as building administrators and district managers, qualify as classroom or non-classroom spending? And how should e-schools without classrooms or off-site learning experiences without teachers be categorized?
Distinguishing between instructional spending and overhead lost steam in other states.
Dale Dennis, deputy education commissioner in Kansas, said that state now recognizes "it's not an exact science" to identify instructional costs -- and there's no research that shows one particular percentage is better or worse than another.
Louisiana watered down its classroom spending target of 70 percent to include the salaries of the principal and other administrators.
Texas abolished its 65 percent rule in 2009 in part because of questions about what classified as "classroom" instruction. The sponsor of Georgia's 65 percent rule -- the last one left in the country -- has come around, like Byrne, to believing it's the wrong approach.
Georgia Senate Education Chairman Fran Millar, an Atlanta Republican who sponsored the law five years ago, unsuccessfully pushed to repeal it this year. He said the rule doesn't work.
"It sounds good, but practically it hasn't had the effect that people thought it would have," Millar said. "If that's the case, it's time to get rid of it."
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols defends the focus on classroom funding.
"When there are fewer resources, you have to direct every ounce you can into getting more out of the kids, which we believe happens through classroom instruction."
Associated Press writers Dorie Turner in Atlanta; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo.; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La.; and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.