Poor schools neglected in funding plan

Hardly anyone wins in the 2019-21 budget and school funding formula approved by the Indiana House, but some schools lose more than others. And high-poverty school districts continue to fall behind.

Legislators have boasted that the budget increases K-12 funding by over 2 percent each of the next two years. But allowing for inflation and increasing enrollment, that’s effectively no increase at all.

As Northwest Allen County Superintendent Chris Himsel tells the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, the key figure is funding per student. Statewide, that will increase by just 1.5 percent in fiscal 2020 and 1.7 percent in fiscal 2021, according to school funding calculations released by House Republications.

And the increase won’t be distributed equally. That’s because funding for the “complexity” category, which funnels additional support to neediest students, is being cut by over $100 million.

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Study: Indiana lags on school funding

Indiana has fallen far behind neighboring states when it comes to funding K-12 education, according to a study released this week by the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Robert Toutkoushian

Robert Toutkoushian

It’s also fallen behind where it used to rank on education spending and teacher salaries. A few years ago, Indiana did a relatively good job of funding schools, but it has slipped markedly in state rankings.

And it will take a lot of money to catch up, the study finds. The state would have to increase K-12 spending by nearly $1.5 billion a year to catch up with surrounding states. It would have to boost spending by $3.3 billion a year to get back the ranking it enjoyed five years previously.

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McCormick unbound

I don’t think Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has ever been shy about saying what she thinks, but she seems to have become even more outspoken since announcing in October that she won’t seek re-election when her term expires in January 2021.

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick

She called out legislators on several issues Wednesday in a Bloomington discussion sponsored by the Indiana Coalition of Public Education-Monroe County and the Monroe County Community School Corp.

School funding: McCormick said the school funding increase in the budget that the Indiana House has approved – just over 2 percent each of the next two years – isn’t enough. Low pay and working conditions are creating a severe teacher shortage, she said, and more money is needed. Thirty-five percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

Funding for charter schools: She took issue with a budget provision that doubles grants to charter schools for transportation, buildings and technology to $1,000 per student – at a cost to the state of $77 million over two years. “If we’ve got $77 million,” she said, “let’s put it in the pot for everybody.”

Indiana’s private-school voucher program: McCormick pointed out that the program was sold in 2011 as a way to help poor and minority students stuck in low-performing schools, but it has evolved into something quite different. Fifty-eight percent of voucher students never attended a public school. “Suburban whites are the ones taking advantage of it most,” she said. Continue reading

School voucher surprise

Indiana Republican legislators dropped a surprise Monday. They are proposing to increase state funding for some students who receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

They want to add a new category of voucher, bridging the gap between low-income families that qualify for “full vouchers” and middle-income families that get “half vouchers.”

Currently, students who qualify by family income for free or reduced-price school lunches qualify for a voucher worth 90 percent of state per-pupil funding received by their local public school district.

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Are Hoosier teachers underpaid?

Are Indiana teachers underpaid compared to their peers in others states? It’s a reasonable question to ask as state officials debate ways to find more money for teacher salaries.

A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests they are underpaid. After adjusting for cost of living, Indiana teacher salaries rank 32nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, it says.

The average “real” salary for a Hoosier teacher in 2017 was $56,347 after adjusting for the state’s low cost of living. Adjusted average salaries ranged from $75,000 in Alaska to $46,230 in Oklahoma.

Significantly, Indiana’s adjusted average salary was well below that for teachers in surrounding states. Gov. Eric Holcomb has suggested Indiana needs to raise educator pay because it’s at risk of losing teachers to nearby states with higher salaries.

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Bad bills may get better – or not

Two of the worst bills filed in this year’s Indiana legislative session are on the agenda Monday morning for a meeting of the House Education Committee. At least, they started out as two of the worst.

The authors of the bills have said they will offer amendments Monday to remove the most egregious provisions. But advocates for public schools and their students need to make sure they do that – and that the provisions don’t return somewhere later in the legislative process.

House Bill 1641, as introduced, would require public school districts to share the proceeds from property-tax referendums with local charter schools. It would also force public districts to sell unused building to private schools, most of which are religious schools, for half their value. Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education has a good explanation for why both are bad ideas.

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Education savings accounts would be costly, wasteful

Hats off to Indiana’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Thanks to it, we can put a price tag on a proposal for a private-school voucher program open to all students, regardless of family income:

At least $170 million a year.

Statehouse domeHouse Bill 1675, sponsored by Columbus Republican Ryan Lauer, would create what’s called an education savings account program. Students who attend accredited private schools could set up the accounts, and the state would deposit funds that they could use to pay tuition and other expenses.

It would go far beyond Indiana’s existing private-school voucher program, which is already one of the biggest and most generous in the country. It comes close to enacting the “universal voucher” plan that libertarians have fantasized about since Milton Friedman suggested the idea in 1955.

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