The Indiana House Republicans vowed to equalize school funding, and that’s what they are doing with the budget they put forward this week. They’re doing it by taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
Their state budget and school funding formula cuts 25 percent — $290 million – from the complexity index, the formula Indiana uses to steer extra money to high-poverty schools.
The result is predictable: more money for school districts with few poor students, and less money for districts with many poor students. The 10 lowest-poverty districts get per-pupil increases ranging from 4.4 percent to 6 percent. The 10 highest-poverty districts all get their per-pupil funding cut.
High-poverty school districts will still get more money, per pupil, than low-poverty districts. But the gap narrows. Schools with the most challenging demographics will do with less.
That said, the House plan would do better by public schools than Gov. Mike Pence’s budget proposal. It provides more money: Increases of 2.3 percent each of the next two years compared to Pence’s 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the second year. And under Pence’s proposal, fully 30 percent of the K-12 funding increase in fiscal 2016 would have gone to charter schools, which serve less than 3 percent of Indiana students.
The House plan keeps Pence’s $1,500-per-pupil grant program for charter schools. But unlike the governor’s it would fund the grant with a $20 million per year budget line – it wouldn’t take the money out of the pot for regular public schools. And the charter-school grants could pay only for buildings, technology and transportation, not for teacher salaries and regular operating expenses.
Speaker Brian Bosma and his caucus also deserve credit for posting online how much state money each school district and charter school will receive if the budget is adopted.
It’s no surprise the Republicans would rewrite the formula to favor growing school districts in suburban areas. That’s there their voters are. But it’s disappointing that they would cut funding for urban and rural districts with high rates of poverty. Those districts need help the most.
And in fact we could do more to help all schools. Indiana used to fund education pretty well, but budget writers have become less generous. The state now ranks in the bottom half for per-pupil funding, according to the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Hoosier teachers’ salaries have fallen more than those in other states, the National Education Association says. Education Week’s 2015 Quality Counts report gave Indiana a grade of C for school finance, a little worse than average.
So sure, lawmakers, help those schools in Zionsville and Carmel. Just don’t steal from the poor to do it.