Indiana House Republicans want to double the grant that charter schools receive to pay for building, technology and transportation expenses from $500 to $1,000 per student.
The proposal is included in the amendment to the budget bill that the House Ways and Means Committee approved this week. Like an expansion of the voucher program, it didn’t go through the House Education Committee and wasn’t discussed as a change in education policy.
The state has been paying $15 million a year for the grant program. With the increase, it could pay $36 million in fiscal year 2020 and $41.4 million in fiscal year 2021 if the program is fully funded, according to a report by the Legislative Services Agency. That’s an additional $47.4 million over two years.
The funding is called a grant, but it works like a straight-up appropriation for charter schools and so-called innovation network schools. Many charter schools receive the funds without having to apply for them. Some are required to apply, but if there’s enough money, they get it. The Indiana Department of Education posts a list of how much charter schools get this year.
You never hear anything about this program. Certainly charter-school advocates never mention it when they complain about how underfunded they are compared to public schools.
The funding is presumably intended to compensate for the fact that public schools receive local property-tax revenue to pay for construction and transportation. Of course, charter schools – unlike public schools – aren’t required to provide student transportation, and many don’t. In some circumstances, charter schools can buy or lease unused public school buildings for $1.
Charter schools receive the same state funding for teacher and staff compensation and most operating expenses as public schools: about $6,000 per student, more in some areas.
The Ways and Means Committee voted 15-6 along party lines this week to approve the Republican budget plan. The budget could be considered for amendments on the House floor today.
The House budget bill also boosts spending on Indiana’s private-school voucher program by creating a new category of voucher funding. According to the Legislative Service Agency, the total cost of the voucher program would increase from $171.8 million this year to $179.5 million next year and $189.7 million the following year. That’s an additional $26.7 million over two years.