Budget would increase charter school funding

Charter schools would get a boost in funding under a budget bill that’s headed for approval by the Indiana House. There may be an argument for that, but don’t expect the legislature to debate it.

Under a budget amendment adopted Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee, the state’s “charter and innovation network school grant” would increase from $750 per pupil to $1,000 in 2021-22 and $1,250 in 2022-23. The increase would cost the state nearly $40 million over two years.

The grant program is intended to compensate for the fact that charter schools can’t levy local property taxes, while public school districts use property taxes to pay for student transportation and facilities expenses. The result is that districts spend about $3,300 more, per pupil, than charter schools, according to a report by the Center for Reinventing Public Education.

Charter schools aren’t required to provide student transportation; reportedly some do, and some don’t. They do have costs for facilities and may have to pay most of those from their state operating funds. According to the CRPE report, charter schools spend $1,285 per pupil on facilities.

Charter school advocates have long objected to the unequal funding and have lobbied to change it. In the 2020 elections, one of the biggest contributors to the House Republican Campaign Committee was a new political action committee called Hoosiers for Great Public Schools. Chaired by former Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, the group gave $150,000 to the House GOP committee and another $50,000 to the campaign of Republican House Speaker Todd Huston.

The PAC raised $900,000 in 2020, none of it from Hoosiers: it all came from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former energy trader and hedge-fund manager John Arnold. (It also spent heavily on Indianapolis Public Schools board elections).

Peterson told me last fall that his primary concern was the “funding gap” between charter schools and traditional public schools. Just what constitutes fair funding for charter schools is a debate worth having, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, House leaders have dealt with the issue in the budget, effectively bypassing any discussion of charter-school funding policy.

When it comes to advocacy, money talks; and those with the most money get heard.

Lawmakers raise kindergarten age issue

A little-noticed measure approved by the Indiana Legislature could provide flexibility for parents who want their children to start kindergarten a little early.

Contrary to some interpretations, it did not change the kindergarten age requirement. State law still says that children may start kindergarten if they turn 5 by Aug. 1. That’s the earliest cutoff date of any state, tied with Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska and North Dakota.

But the law lets schools waive the age requirement and enroll children who miss the cutoff date, if parents request it. It’s up to local school districts to set policies on when to grant waivers.

During the current school year, kindergartners who didn’t turn 5 by Aug. 1, 2018, were not counted in their school’s enrollment for state funding purposes. That created an incentive for school districts to just say no to waiver requests, and reportedly many did.

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Crunch time for school funding, teacher pay

This chart from Forbes Statistica has been all over social media in Indiana in recent weeks, as well it should be. I wonder if Indiana legislators have seen it – and if they have, if they’re paying attention.

It shows that Indiana ranks dead last when it comes to increases in teacher salaries over the past 15 years. Pay for Hoosier teachers has increased by less than $7,000, not adjusted for inflation. That’s less than half the increase seen in neighboring states Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

The legislature is hitting the home stretch on its 2019 session. By far the most important business left to resolve is approving a two-year state budget, including funding for schools. So far, lawmakers have proposed K-12 funding that barely keeps up with inflation. That needs to change.

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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.

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House budget shifts funding to schools in affluent areas

The Indiana House Republicans vowed to equalize school funding, and that’s what they are doing with the budget they put forward this week. They’re doing it by taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Their state budget and school funding formula cuts 25 percent — $290 million – from the complexity index, the formula Indiana uses to steer extra money to high-poverty schools.

The result is predictable: more money for school districts with few poor students, and less money for districts with many poor students. The 10 lowest-poverty districts get per-pupil increases ranging from 4.4 percent to 6 percent. The 10 highest-poverty districts all get their per-pupil funding cut.

High-poverty school districts will still get more money, per pupil, than low-poverty districts. But the gap narrows. Schools with the most challenging demographics will do with less.

That said, the House plan would do better by public schools than Gov. Mike Pence’s budget proposal. It provides more money: Increases of 2.3 percent each of the next two years compared to Pence’s 2 percent the first year and 1 percent the second year. And under Pence’s proposal, fully 30 percent of the K-12 funding increase in fiscal 2016 would have gone to charter schools, which serve less than 3 percent of Indiana students.

The House plan keeps Pence’s $1,500-per-pupil grant program for charter schools. But unlike the governor’s it would fund the grant with a $20 million per year budget line – it wouldn’t take the money out of the pot for regular public schools. And the charter-school grants could pay only for buildings, technology and transportation, not for teacher salaries and regular operating expenses. Continue reading

‘Edujobs’ update – food stamp increase on the chopping block?

The U.S. Senate breathed new life last week into “Edujobs,” passing legislation that would give the states $10 billion to help prevent teacher layoffs along with another $16 billion to help support Medicaid programs. The House is being called back from recess this week to take up the measure.

But to pay for the education funding without increasing the federal deficit, the Senate had to make spending cuts elsewhere. And one of the cuts it approved – to future spending for the federal food stamp program – is running into opposition.

Indiana would get $207 million from the Senate bill, according to an update from the Education Commission for the States.

The House passed a different version of the teacher jobs bill last month, despite controversy over some of its proposed budget offsets Continue reading

A funding slope, but not a cliff

Eric Knox of Support Our Schools has written a helpful analysis of Indiana’s budgetary and school-funding problems and their implications for the Monroe County Community School Corp. It’s posted on the Bloomington Online community forum.

His key point: The so-called “cliff effect” – the impact on education and other programs from the state’s loss of $2 billion in federal stimulus funds – may not be the problem that MCCSC Superintendent J.T. Coopman and other school officials have sometimes suggested. “The State of Indiana has a self-inflicted budget problem, but there is no $2 billion ‘funding cliff’ and 2012 is likely to be better than 2011,” writes Knox, who relies on budget data from Purdue professor Larry DeBoer’s website.

It’s true that Indiana was awarded $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the state has been using that money to balance its budget during the economic downturn. The money has been used to fund both education and the Medicaid health-care program. But by design, the funding was “front-loaded” — about half was budgeted in the first half of 2009 and Indiana’s reliance on stimulus is being gradually phased out.

In other words, the big drop in stimulus funding has already happened, and the decline is leveling out as the money nears zero. Continue reading