State board opts for full school funding for fall

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called on the State Board of Education to delay the fall 2020 enrollment “count day” to address worries about school funding in the coronavirus era. Instead, the board opted for a different approach – and arguably a better one.

Instead of postponing the count, the board decided Wednesday to have its executive director adjust the state school funding formula “to ensure full anticipated funding for students receiving virtual education due to COVID-19,” in the words of a news release.

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Schools may lose funding over virtual start

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.”

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Candidates should name pick for education leader

Candidates for Indiana governor in 2020 should put their education cards on the table when they start campaigning. That means they should announce whom they will appoint as secretary of education.

At the latest, they should do this by the time of the Republican and Democratic state conventions in June 2020. That’s when candidates for the chief state education officer would have been nominated in the past. Better yet, they should announce their choice during the campaign for the May 2020 primaries.

For most of Indiana’s history, the state superintendent of public instruction has been chosen by the voters. But this year, legislators voted to make the position one that’s appointed by the governor. They also changed its name to secretary of education.

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Indiana near bottom in teacher pay, school funding

The National Education Associated released its annual report on teacher salaries this week, and, once again, Indiana doesn’t look very good.

The average salary for an Indiana public school teacher in 2018-19 is $50,937, according to the report, compared with a national average of $61,730. In other findings:

  • Indiana ranked 36th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for average teacher salary.
  • Adjusting for inflation, Indiana’s average teacher salary has declined by 12.7% in the past decade, the fourth-worst drop in the country after Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin.
  • Indiana was fifth from the bottom in reported public school expenditures per student at $8,496. That compares to a national average of $12,602.
  • Per-pupil spending declined by 2.6% in Indiana from the previous year, the worst drop in the country.

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Governor wants to appoint state superintendent

Gov. Eric Holcomb says he wants Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction to be appointed by the governor, not elected by the voters. It’s not the worst education proposal we’re likely to hear this legislative session. But it’s up to Holcomb to make a case for the change.

His fellow Republicans raised this idea in 2012, after Democratic Glenda Ritz upset Republican incumbent Tony Bennett in the superintendent election. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce made appointing the schools chief part of its 2014 legislative agenda. But changing the law when there was a Republican governor and a Democratic superintendent would have been a slap in the face to the voters who favored Ritz. Republicans rightly recognized that.

In November 2016, voters chose Holcomb as governor and Republican Jennifer McCormick, over Ritz, as state superintendent. According to the Indianapolis Star, House Speaker Brian Bosma will sponsor legislation that will let the governor appoint the superintendent in 2021, after McCormick’s term ends.

Indiana is one of 13 states that elect their chief state school officers, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. In 15 states, governors appoint the schools chief. In 22, the position is appointed by the state board.

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