Senate budget is better but not by much

UPDATE: The Senate budget bill now includes the same expansion to Indiana’s voucher program that the House approved last month. The Senate added the voucher provision as an amendment late Monday. It approved the budget today. Differences between the two versions will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.

The Indiana Senate took some modest steps in the right direction with the state budget that it approved last week. For education, it improves on the House-approved version on several counts.

  • The Senate budget bill allocates more money for K-12 schools: an increase of 2.7% in the first year of the biennium and 2.2% in the second year versus 2.2% each year for the House version.
  • It keeps more of the funding with public schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools, spending less on virtual charter schools.
  • It provides a little more money for “complexity,” the factor in the funding formula that gives more money to schools serving disadvantaged students.

The revisions are complicated, and for many school districts, they may not make a huge difference. And as with the House budget, there are winners and losers. About 40 districts, many of them rural districts with declining enrollment, would get less state funding in 2019-20 than in 2018-19.

But virtual charter schools would see bigger reductions. Under the Senate budget, they will get 64% of the per-pupil funding that regular schools receive, compared to 90% under the current school funding formula. They would receive an estimated $63.5 million in the first budget year and $69.3 million in the second year – down from $79 million this year – according to a Legislative Services Agency analysis.

The change in complexity funding is small, and high-poverty schools and districts will still fall behind. Under the House budget bill, the target funding level for complexity was frozen, as it had been since 2016. Under the Senate version, the target is indexed to overall K-12 funding, which increases modestly.

Complexity funding is declining because state data indicate fewer students are receiving federal food stamps and welfare benefits, the criteria for calculating each district’s “complexity index.” Statewide complexity funding drops by $100 million in the House budget and $73 million in the Senate budget.

Two other changes in the Senate budget bill are noteworthy:

Senate Republicans were quick to say their budget does right by public schools, but it falls short of what Indiana needs for adequate and equitable K-12 funding. The legislature is scheduled to wrap up its business this month, and we will know then if it keeps moving in the right direction – and by how much.


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