State funding lags for high-poverty schools

The state budget bill approved last month by the Indiana House continues a trend that we’ve seen for several legislative sessions: School districts that primarily serve affluent families are getting decent funding increases while high-poverty school districts are losing out.

But the story is more complicated than a simple tale of taking from the poor and giving to the rich. It also touches on the innate difficulty of coming up with an accurate and reliable measure of student poverty. For some districts, another factor in play is the current atmosphere for immigrant families.

For over 20 years, Indiana has used a school funding device called the Complexity Index to direct more money to high-poverty schools, which face more complex challenges in educating students. The House budget reduces Complexity Index funding by 15 percent, or $136 million.

The result: High-poverty school districts, those that rely for extra funding on the Complexity Index, could face financial challenges in the two-year period covered by the budget. The legislation is now being considered by the Senate, which could make changes in the House-approved school funding formula.

According to data from Libby Cierzniak, an attorney who represents Indianapolis and Hammond schools at the Statehouse, average per-pupil funding would increase three times as much for the state’s 50 lowest-poverty school districts as for the 50 highest-poverty districts under the House budget. Lawmakers could tweak the formula to make the results more equitable, but so far, they haven’t.

“High-poverty school districts, compared to low-poverty school districts, would take the biggest losses,” Cierzniak said.

Why does Complexity Index funding decrease? The short answer, Cierzniak said, is that, according to the poverty measure used in the index, there are fewer poor children in the state than two years ago. Continue reading

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‘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