Reports show Indiana school funding lagging

Recent reports on state education funding suggest Indiana is slipping when it comes to providing fair and adequate support for public schools.

Exhibit A, and the most discouraging example, is an annual report by researchers at Rutgers University and the Education Law Center. The report, “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” evaluates states on four measures of how they fund schools.

Indiana gets a C in the report for “funding distribution,” a measure of whether states provide additional funding for high-poverty school districts. That’s unfortunate, because Indiana used to consistently get A’s in the category. It used to do a better job of sending more money to the neediest districts.

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Takeover of Gary, Muncie, could spell problems for other schools

It’s tempting to think Indiana House Bill 1315 is a concern only for people in Muncie and Gary. But if state officials can abolish local control of Muncie and Gary community schools because of financial problems, they could do the same for your local district.

“There are real stakes here for a number of districts,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association. “They’re seeing that, even though we’re not Gary or Muncie, what happened to them could happen to us.”

HB 1315 doubles down on 2017 legislation that enabled the state to intervene in the Muncie and Gary districts and turn their operation over to emergency managers appointed by a state board.

Most dramatically, it would hand the operation of Muncie Community Schools over to Ball State University and turn it into a charter-like district exempt from state laws on curriculum, transportation and collective bargaining for teachers. In Gary, the bill would convert the elected local school board to an advisory committee that could meet no more than four times a year.

Legislative Democrats and teachers’ unions have been pushing back against the bill, which has been approved by the House. But Ball State and the Republican supermajority seem to strongly support it. The best hope for slowing it down may be via amendments this week in a Senate committee.

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Voucher program gets outsized share of K-12 funding increase

Students who receive tuition vouchers to attend private religious schools will get nearly 10 percent of the K-12 education funding increase that Indiana lawmakers included in the 2017-19 state budget.

That’s an outsized share given that voucher students make up only about 3.5 percent of the students who receive funding from the state.

Per-pupil funding is less for voucher students than for public school students – voucher students get either 90 percent or 50 percent of the money that would otherwise go to the public schools where they live, depending on family income. But total funding for vouchers will increase because the number of voucher students is expected to continue to grow while public school enrollment is flat.

Projections in school funding data provided by the House Republican caucus show the number of voucher students increasing by over 10 percent in the next two years.

Indiana’s voucher program started small in 2011 but has grown rapidly as new pathways were added. It is now possible for nearly any child from a low-to-middle-income family to qualify by first being awarded a tuition scholarship from a state-approved scholarship granting organization.

The state is spending $146 million on vouchers this school year. The cost is projected to increase to $156.6 million next year and $167.4 million the following year. Continue reading

Quick takes on the 2017 legislative session

A session of the Indiana General Assembly is kind of like a tornado. When it’s over, you crawl out of your shelter, look around and assess the damage.

Lawmakers finished their business and left the Statehouse on Saturday morning. Here’s a quick look at some of the wreckage they left on the education front.

School funding

The most important thing the legislature does for education is to allocate funding for schools. Education funding is the lion’s share of the state budget, but you can’t say lawmakers were very generous.

On average, per-pupil funding will increase by only 1.1 percent in 2017-18 and 1.3 percent in 2018-19. That’s not good enough. School funding in Indiana has never caught up to what it was before the Great Recession, and private school vouchers account for an ever-growing slice of the school funding pie.

The funding formula continues a recent trend of directing bigger funding increases to growing suburban schools and less money to urban and rural schools. Funding is down a lot for the complexity index, the part of the formula that boosts support for schools serving more poor children.

Appointed superintendent

Lawmakers delivered on a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb: making superintendent of public instruction an appointed rather than an elected position. In a compromise between the House and Senate, the new system won’t take effect until 2025 and the appointed superintendent must be an Indiana resident.

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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

Yes for MCCSC

Some of the first posts on this blog argued for the school funding referendum that voters in the Monroe County School Corp. district approved in 2010. Now it’s time to vote again, and the need for a yes vote is as urgent as it was six years ago.

The 2010 referendum authorized a modest increase in local property taxes to supplement the school funding MCCSC receives from the state. The authorization expires after this year. If we don’t vote to extend it, it’s likely staff will be reduced, class sizes will balloon and programs will be cut.

As I’ve written before, it’s easy for people to find a reason to vote no. We can all point to school corporation decisions that we don’t agree with. But voting down the referendum won’t hurt the school board or administrators. It will just hurt our children and grandchildren.

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No time for complacency on school funding vote

It’s tempting to think a referendum to continue funding the Monroe County Community School Corp. with a modest property-tax levy will pass this November with votes to spare – just as it did in 2010.

But that could be a mistake. This is a very different election year from the one six years ago. Contests for president and governor are on the ballot, a circumstance that will bring out more and different voters. An anti-establishment mood has swept the country, and that could hurt the MCCSC and its supporters.

Yes for MCCSC graphicAnd it’s likely that many voters will go to the polls with no idea a school funding referendum is on the ballot. The question will be at the bottom, below all the national, state and county contests. It’s important to inform education supporters that they need to vote.

So it’s good to see the school district’s supporters are treating this like a real election campaign. The pro-referendum election committee Yes for MCCSC held a kickoff rally Tuesday, complete with music, signs and talks by students, parents, teachers and officials. The group has put together an informative website. It has lined up support from Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and others.

Importantly, the website includes a “supply closet” section that details how the referendum money will be used and a property tax calculator that shows what the impact will be on taxpayers.

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