What a tangled web …

In 2012, the Indiana State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett chose Charter Schools USA to run three Indianapolis schools that the state had taken over after years of low test scores.

Thus began a complex tale replete with politics, money and head-spinning networks of relationships – with the fate of the schools, T.C. Howe Community School, Emmerich Manual High School and Emma Donnan Middle School, still in the balance seven years later.

The saga took another turn last week when the state board rejected an appeal by Indianapolis Public Schools to let the schools return to its fold as “innovation network” schools. Instead, it called for Charter Schools USA, through a nonprofit affiliate, to keep running the schools, now as charter schools.

The Indiana Charter School Board could decide Friday whether to award charters to the CSUSA affiliate, called ReThink Forward Indiana. If it does, ReThink will have yet another CSUSA-connected group, Noble Education Initiative, manage the schools. Continue reading

Tax caps cost schools hundreds of millions

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Indiana legislators enacted property tax caps over a decade ago. Then, in 2010, we added them to the state constitution by a referendum vote of 72% to 28%. I don’t recall much talk at the time about consequences for school funding, but we’re seeing them now.

In some school districts, the consequences look to be devastating.

According to data from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, public schools are losing about $268 million in revenue this year as a result of caps. That’s over one-tenth of their total levy, the amount of property tax revenue the districts would otherwise be able to raise.

The impact of the caps varies widely, with big losses for some large and urban school districts: $18.3 million for Indianapolis Public Schools, $17.7 million for Gary Community Schools and $12.3 million for Wayne Township (Indianapolis) schools.

Chart showing schools with biggest tax cap losses.

School districts with the largest losses from property tax caps. Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

Gary schools are losing almost half of their potential local property tax levy.

When it comes to lost revenue per pupil, the biggest losers include Gary Community Schools, $3,535; Muncie Community Schools, $,1,620; Beech Grove School Corp., $1,450; Anderson Community Schools, $1,298; and Westfield-Washington School Corp., $1,134.

It’s probably no accident that Gary and Muncie are the two Indiana districts to be labeled financially “distressed” and taken over by the state. Muncie was later transferred to Ball State University.

Chart of school districts with largest property tax cap losses per pupil.

School districts that lose the most money per pupil from property tax caps. Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, noted that the state’s 290 school corporations have lost nearly $1 billion to tax caps in the past four years. The legislature has provided districts some flexibility for managing the losses, but it’s still a struggle.

“These are significant issues that are long-term, and there are no easy solutions,” Spradlin said.

Under Indiana’s school funding system, the state pays most school operating costs, including salaries and benefits for teachers and other school employees. But school corporations rely on local property taxes to pay for transportation, capital projects and construction debt.

Continue reading

Report shows scope of school choice

CLARIFICATION: The transfer report counts 5,407 students who live in the Indianapolis Public Schools District and who attend IPS “innovation network schools” as having transferred out of the district to charter schools. (Innovation network schools are part of IPS but operate much like charter schools and have their own school boards). If those students were counted as attending IPS schools, the proportion of state-funded students in the district who attend IPS schools would be 66.5%

Nearly 14% of state-funded K-12 students in Indiana attend schools other than public schools in their local school district, according to a report released last week by the Indiana Department of Education.

Some attend charter schools. Some attend private schools with help from state-funded tuition vouchers. But many transfer to public schools outside the district where they live, an option that has become increasingly common in the past decade.

Some districts are hurt especially hard by school choice. In Gary Community Schools, only 36.4% of students who live in the district attend local public schools. In the Indianapolis Public Schools district, the figure is barely half.

Continue reading

‘Great day’ for teachers

Thousands of teachers rocked the Indiana Statehouse at Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day, demanding higher salaries, less testing and a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for their profession.

It was an impressive show of force. Now the question is whether educators can keep up the pressure through the upcoming session of the General Assembly and the 2020 election campaign. Continue reading

Teachers will show clout at Statehouse rally

Indiana legislators may have thought they fixed the state’s education funding last spring when they approved a budget that increased K-12 funding by over $760 million over a two-year period.

But judging by the enthusiasm for Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse, Hoosier teachers and their friends aren’t persuaded that support for public education has turned a corner.

About 16,000 people have signed up to participate in the rally, according to its organizer, the Indiana State Teachers Association. Half of the state’s public school districts have canceled classes for the event — including the two largest, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis Public Schools.

Continue reading

Small town beats odds, passes school referendum

Search the internet for Austin, Indiana, and you’ll find dozens of stories about drug abuse, HIV and Gov. Mike Pence’s belated declaration of a public health emergency. Here’s some good news from Austin. Last week, residents of this hard-hit Southern Indiana town bucked the odds and voted to increase their own property taxes to benefit local schools.

“The town really values the schools. They always have,” said Trevor Jones, superintendent of the local school district, Scott County District No. 1. “We’ve had a lot of issues in Austin the last five or six years, but the schools have been a real bright spot for this community.”

Continue reading

No clear pattern to high- and low-spending school districts

It’s an article of faith in Indiana that school districts serving large populations of poor students spend more money than affluent districts. At one level, it’s true. When it comes to state funding, high-poverty districts get and spend a little more, per pupil, than low-poverty districts.

But when you consider total spending – including funds from state, federal and local sources – a different picture emerges, according to the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of School System Finances.

Continue reading