State officials boasted last month that Indiana was doing what few states have managed to do in these tough times: increasing funding for public schools.
But the claim probably rings hollow for students and parents in Gary Public Schools, where funding has been cut by 30 percent over two years. Or in rural districts such as White River Valley in southwestern Indiana’s Greene County, where the two-year funding cut is 16 percent.
Gov. Mitch Daniels and his fellow Republicans who control the House and Senate decided in April that Indiana could afford to add $150 million for schools to the two-year state budget. About half was added to the school funding formula and the rest was set aside for full-day kindergarten and teacher merit pay.
But remember that Daniels cut school funding by $327 million in December 2009. So Indiana public schools, on the whole, remain well behind where they were 2½ years ago. And that doesn’t count the money that will bleed away to new charter schools and voucher-funded private schools.
Furthermore, as Scott Elliott reported in Monday’s Indianapolis Star, the legislature also rewrote the school funding formula to favor fast-growing and wealthy suburban districts, which tend to be represented by Republicans, and to hurt districts with shrinking enrollment – especially high-poverty districts like Gary, where the politics are overwhelmingly Democratic.
“Put simply, Indiana’s new school-funding formula will cut aid to schools where the poorest children live and boost funds for schools in the state’s wealthiest neighborhoods,” Elliott wrote.
Here’s a file from the nonpartisan Legislature Services Agency that estimates what the impact is going to be for every school district in the state.School Formula No 41
The categories to focus on are “total” funding, which compares what the legislature approved two years ago with the current budget; and “net” funding, which compares funding after the 2009 cuts with the current budget. Note that many districts will get additional funding cuts beyond Daniels’ reductions.
It’s also instructive to look at “$/ADM,” which is the state’s way of saying “dollars per student.”
As Elliott explains, districts with a lot of poor students, special-needs students, non-English-speaking students, etc., historically have received more state money per student in Indiana, and for good reason. Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute says one study found it would take $20,000 per student per year to offset the impact of poverty on education.
The shift in the funding formula to favor growing schools was apparently enough to persuade the Hamilton Southeastern, Franklin Township (suburban Indianapolis) and Middlebury districts to drop their lawsuit challenging the old school funding formula as inequitable.
Or maybe it was a new law that convinced the districts they shouldn’t fight on. Senate Bill 495, a little-noticed measure approved by the Senate and House and signed by Daniels, prohibits public schools from using their state-generated operating funds to sue the state.