The Indianapolis Public Schools board decided this week to ask voters to approve $315 million in increased property taxes to help fund school operations. That may sound like a lot, but spread over eight years and for a district of IPS’ size, it’s a reasonable request.
It’s right in line with what school boards have been asking for in other districts around the state. And voters have increasingly approved those school-funding referendums.
The IPS operating referendum boils down to $39.4 million per year — about $1,300 per IPS student. Some districts, including West Lafayette, Tri-County and Munster, have won approval for more than that, per pupil. Other districts, including MSD Warren Township and Crown Point, have settled for less.
The IPS referendum would increase local property taxes by up to 28 cents per $100 assessed property value. That’s right in the middle of the 16 school operating referendums approved in the past year.
Just because the request is reasonable doesn’t mean it will pass, of course. A lot of people who live in Indianapolis don’t have any direct connection or apparent loyalty to the city’s public-school district. Only about 56 percent of students who live in the district and receive public funding for their education attend IPS schools; the rest attend charter schools or voucher-funded private schools or transfer out of the district.
The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce weighed in last week with a proposal for a much smaller tax increase conditioned on IPS closing schools and cutting teachers and central-office staff. It may come as news to some in the business world, but research shows that money matters to schools. A research review from the nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute finds a strong correlation between spending and student achievement, especially in high-poverty districts like IPS.
When Indiana gave school districts the option of asking voters to approve funding a decade ago, referendums were more likely to fail than to pass. But as a database from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University shows, recent referendums have mostly been successful.
Affluent and highly educated districts like Carmel and West Lafayette tend to win approval for referendums without breaking a sweat. But in the past year, urban districts such as Anderson, Hammond and MSD Warren Township have approved school funding. Maybe IPS will too. As with any election, it will come down to making the case for approval and getting supporters to the polls.