Faced with questions about state funding for schools that are operating online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Eric Holcomb came up with an answer: Kick the can down the road.
Gov. Eric Holcomb
Holcomb, together with leaders of the Indiana House and Senate, proposed delaying the “count day” for recording school corporations’ official fall enrollment from September until at least December. That means schools will continue to receive complete state funding through the fall semester.
But it doesn’t address what happens beyond that. Neither does it ensure that schools will get their get the funding they expected for the 2020-21 school year, without having it reduced because some students attend virtually. That will be up to the legislature.
“The key in this discussion is a one-time adjustment to the virtual funding portion of the school formula. That is the solution to the issue,” Denny Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, told me by email.
It’s entirely possible that Indiana schools will lose millions of dollars in state funding if they aren’t opening their doors to in-person instruction this fall.
Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, the Senate president pro tem, raised the issue in a letter last week to school officials, pointing out that state law says online classes qualify for only 85% of normal funding.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and several legislative leaders indicated in June that the funding restriction would be lifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bray said there is “a strong appetite” in the legislature for making that change for schools that offer online learning as an option.
“However, there is no guarantee such an exception will be made for schools that don’t give families the option of in-person instruction in a school building,” he wrote. “Therefore, schools that don’t offer in-person instruction should plan on operating under the current funding policy.”
Indiana charter schools were awarded between $15 million and $38 million in Paycheck Protection Program funding intended to help small businesses and nonprofits during the economic downturn, according to Small Business Administration data.
That is in addition to funding under a section of the CARES Act intended to help public schools; Indiana charter schools got $20.5 million in that funding.
The PPP figure is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include schools that may have received less than $150,000, which were not identified by the SBA.