Message for legislators: School funding hasn’t kept pace

Indiana schools still haven’t recovered from the financial hit they took from the recession of 2007-09. And schools that serve poor children have fallen furthest behind where they once were.

Those are key findings from an analysis of school funding from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. The report, “Equity Analysis of the 2015-17 Indiana School Funding Formula,” was written by CEEP researcher Thomas Sugimoto for the State Board of Education.

Indiana Statehouse

Indiana Statehouse

The findings should be front and center for legislators as they put together a state budget for the next two years, including a funding formula that will allocate about $7 billion a year to schools.

Sugimoto said lawmakers shouldn’t see the report in isolation but should consider it in light of their efforts to create a fair and effective system for funding education. And the report should improve their understanding of the challenges facing schools where funding has declined, he said.

Indiana schools have been digging out of the hole left by the recession, the report shows, but they’ve not reached daylight. Adjusting for inflation, they operate on less money today than eight years ago. State leaders will say there’s only enough money to give schools a modest increase. But the state has $2 billion in reserves, some of which could be tapped. And tax cuts approved in recent years reduced state revenue by $650 million, according to Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer. Investing that money in education would have put schools on much more solid ground.

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Ritz to speak Monday in Bloomington

The first eight months in office have been eventful for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. There should be a lot to talk about when she visits Indiana University Bloomington Monday for a policy chat.

The session, sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, starts at 2 p.m. in the Georgian Room of the Indiana Memorial Union. Jeremy Anderson, president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, will moderate.

Ritz, of course, pulled off a shocker by upsetting incumbent Tony Bennett in the November 2012 election. Republican Bennett had a 5-to-1 spending advantage and support from the likes of Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg. Ritz had a grassroots movement of teachers and parents on her side.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing since she took office in January.

// State ISTEP-Plus exams were plagued by computer interruptions in the spring, delaying results and throwing a wrench into school and teacher evaluations.

// The legislature mandated a “pause” in implementing the Common Core State Standards, putting Ritz in the middle of a nasty fight between supporters and opponents of the standards.

// Controversy erupted over the state’s A-to-F school grading system when the Associated Press revealed that Bennett and his staff manipulated the system to boost a charter school’s grade.

// Gov. Mike Pence created a Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new agency that appears to take responsibility for education policy away from Ritz. Ritz said she wasn’t told in advance about the move.

// State Board of Education members, appointed by Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, regularly balk at Ritz’s recommendations and seem to be taking over some of the superintendent’s budgetary and policy responsibilities.

All this puts Ritz in a tight spot. She has tried to nudge the state away from the hard-nosed approach to education reform that Bennett favored. But to a certain extent, she has to get along with the Republicans who run state government. It should make for an interesting policy chat on Monday.

Study of absenteeism points to opportunity for helping students

Schools can’t be effective if students don’t show up. That was the conclusion of a study of the impact of chronic absenteeism released this week by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University and the Indiana Partnerships Center.

The idea makes sense: The less often students are in class, the less they will learn. But the correlation between attendance and student achievement that the study found was striking. Students who were chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, scored much lower on state tests than those with solid attendance records. And students who missed a lot of school were far less likely to graduate from high school.

“Whether a student’s absences are excused or unexcused, whether the student is cutting classes without his parents’ knowledge or going on vacation with his parents, his chronic absence negatively affects his academic performance in profound ways,” Indiana Partnerships Center director Jacqueline Garvey said in a news release.

The study looked at school-level data for a six-year period. It also tracked individual records for two cohorts of Indiana students: kindergartners and sixth-graders in 2003-04. Findings included:

— By third grade, attendance was associated with big gaps in ISTEP-Plus test scores. Students with exemplary attendance had average scores of 437 in math and 447 in English; students who were chronically absent scored 390 in math and 409 in English.
— Average eighth-grade scores for students with exemplary attendance were 571 in math and 548 in English; for chronically absent students, 507 in math and 513 in English.
— In an even more striking finding, 88 percent of students with exemplary attendance graduated from high school on time, while just 24 percent of chronically absent students Continue reading

Survey: Three-fourths of school districts cut jobs

Three-fourths of Indiana school districts eliminated jobs this year as a result of reductions in state education funding, according to a survey by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Of the districts that cut jobs, 88 percent eliminated teaching positions. Eighty-four percent eliminated non-certified staff, a category that includes service and maintenance employees and instructional assistants.

The online Survey on School Corporation Financial Management Issues was conducted between June 23 and July 23 by CEEP in partnership with the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents and the Indiana School Boards Association. Some 204 of Indiana’s 292 school superintendents answered the survey, a 70 percent response rate.

Terry Spradlin, CEEP’s associate director for education policy, presented the results Aug. 30 to the Indiana General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on the School Funding Formula. The survey provides a snapshot of how Indiana schools are responding to the sluggish economy and, in particular, to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ decision in December 2009 to reduce school funding by $297 million this year.

More than half the districts said in the survey that they expect to cut jobs in 2011-12. The survey was conducted before Congress approved legislation that provides Indiana with $207 million Continue reading