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