Another take on Indiana school funding fairness

There are several ways to calculate the per-pupil funding that Indiana school corporations receive from the state. Arguably the fairest and most transparent is to focus on the basic “tuition support” that’s awarded to all districts, plus the complexity index that provides more dollars to higher-needs schools.

If you take that approach, the claim by House Republicans that state funding for schools varies from $5,000 up to $9,500 per student is truly out of whack.

Per-pupil funding for the current year using only tuition support and the complexity index is included in a school funding chart posted to the Indiana Department of Education’s Learning Connections site. You can see that the lowest-funded districts – typically low-poverty schools like those in Hamilton County, which don’t benefit much from the complexity index – fall a bit short of $5,000 per pupil.

But the most generously funded districts don’t get close to what House Republicans said. Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, gets $7,058 per pupil. East Chicago, at $7,526 per pupil, is the highest-funded district (though several charter schools are close).

In a post on Monday, I reported that IPS received $8,300 per pupil. That figure, from a chart generated by a legislative office, included special education funding, full-day kindergarten grants and payments for students who earn an honors diploma and those who enroll in career-education classes.

The honors diploma funding is set by the state and is the same for all schools. Career education funding is supposed to be an incentive to train students for high-demand jobs. Indiana began funding full-day kindergarten in 2011. Special education funding is based on the number of students identified with special needs, with more dollars allocated for those with more severe disabilities.

In other words, these are “below the line” calculations that should not be in play when House Republicans go about trying to “fix” the funding formula.

Most of the variability in per-pupil funding comes from the complexity index, so lawmakers could be tempted to rewrite that formula. But the index is arguably one of the things Indiana does right. This year’s school funding fairness report card from the Education Law Center in New Jersey gives Indiana an A for “funding distribution,” a measure of whether states provide more money to high-poverty schools.

Legislators need to remember that old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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2 thoughts on “Another take on Indiana school funding fairness

  1. It is important to note that the state is already decreasing funding to certain urban school districts that are losing students. Gary gets about $600 per student left to support declining enrollment and IPS gets about $400 per student left. It really varies from district to district, however (See page 19 of the FWCS 2014 budget: http://www.fwcs.k12.in.us/files/board/presentations/2014budget_presentation.pdf ). FWCS is still feeling the effects of the austerity of having less than the funding legally allowed at one point and is not currently at target: “For many years – Friend provided data dating back to 2007 – FWCS operated underneath what was described as the “foundation.” It meant that, when factoring in issues like complexity (how the state assesses districts based on the number of students who receive free and reduced lunches, which is one snapshot metric of poverty), FWCS was actually receiving less money per student than it actually should have, by law.” (http://www.news-sentinel.com/article/2013130329699) This is on top of the fact that urban schools have been hit hardest by tax caps, Indiana has been one of the fastest states in the nations for implementing expensive school reform, and Annie Casey Foundation Data Center showed Indiana falling behind other Midwestern states in overall adjusted funding as of 2011: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/Line/5199-per-pupil-educational-expenditures-adjusted-for-regional-cost-differences?loc=1&loct=2#2/11,15-16,24,37,40/false/867,38,18,16,14,12,9,8,7,6/asc/any/11678 . The national report card is great, but makes many adjustments for state by state differences and has a 3 year lag (summary: http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/ExecutiveSummary_2014.htm more detailed report: http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/National_Report_Card_2014.pdf) . Thus it must be viewed in perspective.

    • Good points, Jorge. The national fairness report also arguably gives Indiana too much credit for effort. I haven’t looked at this in depth but I suspect it’s because all our state general fund dollars come from the state; they aren’t supplemented by local property taxes.

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