Bill would share referendum funds with charter schools

Legislation to force school districts to share money from property-tax referendums with charter schools is scheduled for a hearing Thursday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The measure, House Bill 1072, says funding from future operating and school-safety referendums must be shared with charter schools attended by students who live in the school district. Its author is Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the influential chair of the House Education Committee.

An analysis by the state’s Legislative Services Agency suggests the bill could shift about $25 million a year from school districts to charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. The impact would be most pronounced in cities with many charter schools, like Indianapolis and Gary. It would not apply to online charter schools or “adult high schools” like Goodwill Industries’ Excel Centers.

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Deadline nears on charter schools bill

Indiana advocates for traditional public schools are doing what they can in the little time that’s left to block legislation that would let charter schools share in the revenue produced by local property-tax referendums.

They had no chance to weigh in on the measure before Monday, when it was approved by the Senate as an amendment to House Bill 1065, dealing with various tax matters. That’s because it didn’t appear until Monday morning. Its author bypassed the normal legislative process, which includes committee hearings in both the House and Senate and a chance for the public to speak.

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Elections brought mostly good news for education

Last week’s election results were mostly positive for education. Not entirely – there were definitely a few missed opportunities. But the news was more good than bad.

Close to home, voters in the Indianapolis Public Schools district approved a referendum to raise property taxes and increase school funding by $272 million over eight years. Most of the money will go to operating expenses, including long-overdue teacher raises; some will fund building improvements.

This is a big deal. IPS has struggled for years with declining enrollment and reduced state funding. Officials were reluctant to try to raise property taxes for fear voters would shoot down the measure. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce first called for a smaller increase, then got on board.

Around the state, eight school funding referendums were approved and four were turned down. That’s a worse success rate than schools have achieved in recent years, as officials have become more cautious and savvy in asking for tax increases. In May, voters approved 12 of 12 referendums.

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School referendums point to equity issues

School funding referendums were approved Tuesday in six of the eight Indiana school districts that asked voters to increase their own property taxes to help pay teacher salaries and other expenses. That sounds like strong support for public education.

But several successful referendums were in affluent communities where voters can afford to pay a few more dollars for the high-achieving schools that are key contributors to their property values. Referendums failed in two high-poverty districts – East Chicago and Cannelton – where students may have the greatest need for extra money.

The bigger issue is that most of Indiana’s nearly 300 school districts have never voted to raise local taxes to increase local school funding, and most probably never will.

Only about 40 Indiana school districts have approved school tax levy referendums since the referendum system began eight years ago. Most have never tried, because officials know the effort would probably fail. It’s not that people don’t support their local schools; it’s that the tax base is often so weak that it would take a big rate increase to make a difference – which could hurt many property owners.

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