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

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Another take on Indiana school funding fairness

There are several ways to calculate the per-pupil funding that Indiana school corporations receive from the state. Arguably the fairest and most transparent is to focus on the basic “tuition support” that’s awarded to all districts, plus the complexity index that provides more dollars to higher-needs schools.

If you take that approach, the claim by House Republicans that state funding for schools varies from $5,000 up to $9,500 per student is truly out of whack.

Per-pupil funding for the current year using only tuition support and the complexity index is included in a school funding chart posted to the Indiana Department of Education’s Learning Connections site. You can see that the lowest-funded districts – typically low-poverty schools like those in Hamilton County, which don’t benefit much from the complexity index – fall a bit short of $5,000 per pupil.

But the most generously funded districts don’t get close to what House Republicans said. Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, gets $7,058 per pupil. East Chicago, at $7,526 per pupil, is the highest-funded district (though several charter schools are close).

In a post on Monday, I reported that IPS received $8,300 per pupil. That figure, from a chart generated by a legislative office, included special education funding, full-day kindergarten grants and payments for students who earn an honors diploma and those who enroll in career-education classes.

The honors diploma funding is set by the state and is the same for all schools. Career education funding is supposed to be an incentive to train students for high-demand jobs. Indiana began funding full-day kindergarten in 2011. Special education funding is based on the number of students identified with special needs, with more dollars allocated for those with more severe disabilities.

In other words, these are “below the line” calculations that should not be in play when House Republicans go about trying to “fix” the funding formula.

Most of the variability in per-pupil funding comes from the complexity index, so lawmakers could be tempted to rewrite that formula. But the index is arguably one of the things Indiana does right. This year’s school funding fairness report card from the Education Law Center in New Jersey gives Indiana an A for “funding distribution,” a measure of whether states provide more money to high-poverty schools.

Legislators need to remember that old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

School funding ‘fix’ would help some, hurt others

The last time Indiana House Republicans vowed to fix the state’s school funding formula, some districts saw double-digit cuts in their budgets. Now they’re at it again, and the results are likely to be similar.

House Speaker Brian Bosma announced the latest plan last week, putting school funding equalization at the top of the caucus’s 2015 legislative agenda. “I have had many teachers across Indiana tell me that the distribution of school funds is unfair,” he said in a news release. “We will fix this.”

It’s true there are discrepancies in Indiana school funding. Generally speaking, high-poverty school districts get more money per student; and growing, affluent districts get less. But those differences exist for a reason. And the GOP “fix” is almost certain to hurt some of Indiana’s most vulnerable students.

This is Indiana, after all, and we can probably rule out any kind of tax increase in 2015 to raise funding for schools across the board. That means the only way Republicans can boost funding for the typically low-poverty schools in their legislative districts will be to take from high-poverty districts.

As the civil rights leader Julian Bond said last week in a lecture at Indiana University, “In America, the education dollar follows the white child.”

House Republicans also exaggerated the size of the funding differences, telling reporters state funding for school districts varies from $9,500 to $5,000. It once varied about that much, but no longer. Continue reading

In ‘reform’ vs. ‘status quo’: a rhetorical no-contest

Sean Cavanaugh has a good article in Education Week describing how advocates of charter schools, vouchers and merit pay have managed to label themselves as “reformers” and their critics as the “education establishment” and defenders of the “status quo.”

“Using rhetoric to frame policies in a flattering or negative light is, of course, as old as politics itself,” he writes. “But the pervasiveness of today’s education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking, and reflects the extent to which self-described supporters of reform have seized the rhetorical high ground in making their case.”

Cavanaugh also notes how “reform” advocates claim their policies are good for students or children, while their opponents want what’s best for adults. He cites the “Putting Students First” agenda of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett; Idaho Republican leaders’ “Students Come First” program; and Michelle Rhee’s new organization, StudentsFirst.

It’s an uphill battle for those who think choice, union-busting and high-stakes testing aren’t panaceas. How do you capture skepticism in an inspirational slogan?

Gates: bigger class sizes can be better

Microsoft founder and education super-philanthropist Bill Gates writes in the Washington Post that the U.S. needs to “flip the curve” to get more bang for its education buck. To do so, he says, “we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement.”

He makes the usual reformist argument that the key to improving education is to hire, retain and reward great teachers – and that advanced degrees and experience are unrelated to teacher effectiveness. And he suggests paying more to the best teachers if they agree to teach more students.

This makes logical sense. It will be more persuasive when elite private schools start advertising their large class sizes – you know, to better share the benefits of having excellent teachers.

Fifteen yards (and an indefinite delay of game) for taunting

Lafayette attorney Doug Masson uses a football analogy to describe the impasse in the Indiana House on his Masson’s Blog. House Democrats fled to Illinois last week, claiming that Republican over-reaching on anti-labor and education measures forced them to shut down the process.

“The House G.O.P. reminds me of one of those receivers that catches a deep pass in the open field, then starts showboating short of the end zone before being stripped by a second-stringer too dumb or stubborn to know the game is supposed to be over,” Masson writes. “It’s all the more maddening because the guy who stripped the ball is a short dude with bad hair.”

The short dude, of course, is Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, the House minority leader who led the Democratic exodus to Urbana, Ill. The dude is nothing if not stubborn.

Wait ends for ‘Superman’

The hype and buzz for Davis Guggenheim’s charter-schools documentary film Waiting for “Superman” seemed to fizzle. The expected Oscar nomination didn’t come through.

The movie apparently passed through Indiana theaters in December without much notice. But we’ll have a chance to see it again in Bloomington, thanks to the Indiana University School of Education and several student groups, including EDPOSA, the Education Policy Student Association.

The screening, at 6 p.m. Friday (March 4) at the IU School of Education auditorium, will be followed by a panel discussion with IU education professors Larry Mikulecky, Jesse Goodman and Jonathan Plucker and possibly area teachers. It’s free and open to the public.

Gary, IPS are biggest losers in GOP school funding plan

Many school districts would face hardships under the budget and school funding formula unveiled last week by the Republican leaders of the Indiana House of Representatives – but none of them gets slammed harder than the Gary Community School Corp.

The GOP plan would cut funding for Gary schools by nearly $20 million over a two-year period. Add the $5 million that Gov. Mitch Daniels sliced from the district’s budget last year, and the city’s schools are looking at a 25-percent reduction.

We don’t talk much about race or class in 21st century America, but it’s hard not to notice that 97 percent of students in the Gary public schools are African-American and most come from low-income families. Look also at Indianapolis Public Schools, where two-thirds of students are black, Hispanic or multiracial and more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches: IPS funding would be cut by $41.3 million over two years, about 15 percent, under the proposal.

All 60 Republicans in the Indiana House are white. It’s a safe bet that none are poor.

Republicans would point out that, even with the cuts, per-pupil funding will remain higher in Gary and Indianapolis than the state average. They might suggest that generous state funding hasn’t produced stellar test scores and graduation rates in those districts, so it’s time for something else.

One reason the funding imbalance developed was that Democrats long controlled the House and protected urban (and some rural) schools from funding cuts, even when they lost enrollment. The logic was sound: A district that loses a few students can’t necessarily close schools and lay off teachers without sacrificing quality.

But growing suburban school districts complained the formula wasn’t fair. Some even sued. Now Republicans control both the House and Senate in Indiana, and they are tilting the school-funding formula to favor their own constituents.