Indiana just doesn’t try hard enough. That’s a key message from an annual report on school funding from the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.
When it comes to “fiscal effort,” one of the report’s measures of K-12 funding, Indiana lags behind most other states. We spend just 3.06% of our gross state product on K-12 education, compared to a national average of 3.45%. Indiana ranks 36th among the states for fiscal effort.
It wasn’t always that way. In 2007, Indiana spent a respectable 3.73% of its economy on K-12 schools, the report says. Then came the Great Recession. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state slashed funding for schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett declared this was a “new normal,” and schools should just get used to it. Indiana fell far behind its peers for teacher pay.
The Shanker-Rutgers report also rates school funding on measures of “progressivity,” whether high-poverty schools get more money than low-poverty schools; and “adequacy,” whether schools get the funding they need to achieve average test scores for students. Indiana’s school funding system rates as moderately progressive, but it’s far from adequate in high-poverty school districts.
Indiana spends 8.8% more, per pupil, in high-poverty than in low-poverty districts, according to the report. That makes it the 14th most progressive state for school funding. We used to do better, but legislators have chipped away at the “complexity index,” which sends more money to high-poverty schools.
Indiana also falls short on adequacy. Its highest-poverty districts spend 27% less than is needed to for students to achieve average test scores, according to a formula used in the report. Low-poverty districts spend considerably more than needed.
Indiana isn’t unique in spending less than it used to. Thirty-seven states spend a smaller share of their gross state product on K-12 schools than they did prior to the 2007-09 recession, the report says.
“It’s fair to say that the K-12 funding situation has regressed back to where it was about 30 years ago, before many of the gains made from the finance reforms that followed,” Rutgers professor and report co-author Bruce Baker says in a news release.
But Indiana has regressed more than most. Indiana’s “fiscal effort” has shrunk by more than twice the national rate, according to the report.
The report uses data from the 2018-19 school year, the most recent available. Indiana gave schools a larger-than-expected funding boost in the current budget cycle, thanks to federal stimulus spending. That helped some districts make progress on a state goal of boosting teacher pay.
It helped, but not enough. Indiana lawmakers may think they’re made enough of an effort to fund schools and it’s time to rest. They would be wrong.