‘Great day’ for teachers

Thousands of teachers rocked the Indiana Statehouse at Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day, demanding higher salaries, less testing and a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for their profession.

It was an impressive show of force. Now the question is whether educators can keep up the pressure through the upcoming session of the General Assembly and the 2020 election campaign. Continue reading

Teachers will show clout at Statehouse rally

Indiana legislators may have thought they fixed the state’s education funding last spring when they approved a budget that increased K-12 funding by over $760 million over a two-year period.

But judging by the enthusiasm for Tuesday’s Red for Ed Action Day at the Statehouse, Hoosier teachers and their friends aren’t persuaded that support for public education has turned a corner.

About 16,000 people have signed up to participate in the rally, according to its organizer, the Indiana State Teachers Association. Half of the state’s public school districts have canceled classes for the event — including the two largest, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis Public Schools.

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Small town beats odds, passes school referendum

Search the internet for Austin, Indiana, and you’ll find dozens of stories about drug abuse, HIV and Gov. Mike Pence’s belated declaration of a public health emergency. Here’s some good news from Austin. Last week, residents of this hard-hit Southern Indiana town bucked the odds and voted to increase their own property taxes to benefit local schools.

“The town really values the schools. They always have,” said Trevor Jones, superintendent of the local school district, Scott County District No. 1. “We’ve had a lot of issues in Austin the last five or six years, but the schools have been a real bright spot for this community.”

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Referendums help school districts, but not all of them

Voters in 10 Indiana school districts will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to raise their own property taxes to help fund local public schools. It’s another sign that Indiana has become a referendum state, with districts turning to local taxpayers to do the job that legislators haven’t done.

'Vote Here' sign near polling place.But only some of them: 60% of Indiana school districts have never attempted a referendum.

That’s approximately 180 districts that haven’t turned to the voters for funding in the 10 years that Indiana has had school funding referendums. Maybe they haven’t needed the money; or maybe superintendents and school boards didn’t think the local voters were ready.

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Indiana ‘at-risk’ funding has declined

Indiana needs to spend more money on K-12 education. And it should target more of its spending to school districts that serve a large share of students from poor families.

Statehouse domeThose were key take-aways from a study presented Tuesday to a legislative committee examining Indiana’s complexity index, which channels extra money to schools to compensate for their enrollment of students who may require additional resources.

Robert Toutkoushian, a professor at the University of Georgia, produced the study, which found that Indiana’s per-pupil complexity index funding has declined by half in the past 10 years. As a share of overall state school funding, complexity funding fell from almost 20% to less than 10%.

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What it takes: integration, funding, preschool

Research shows what it takes to make our public schools work, labor economist Rucker C. Johnson writes in his recent book “Children of the Dream.” It takes racial and socioeconomic integration. Funding that is abundant and equitably distributed. And a focus on high-quality preschool.

Children of the Dream book coverBut just one of these strategies won’t get the job done – it takes all of them working in concert. “The synergy of policies working together plays an enormous role in their success,” Johnson writes.

Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works” is an unusual book, written for a general audience but packed with original and eye-opening research findings. It conveys a hopeful message: We can make education work and we don’t need to look for alternatives to public schools.

Johnson is a highly regarded economist who holds the title Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote the book with journalist Alexander Nazaryan.

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School referendums may be reaching limit

I’ve written a lot about winners and losers in Indiana school funding, usually focusing on budget decisions made by the state legislature. But there’s another important divide when it comes to funding schools: between districts that pass local property-tax referendums and those that don’t.

And judging by this month’s elections, the number of referendum winners may be nearing its limit. Only six of the 10 school referendums that were on the May 7 ballot were approved. That’s a far lower rate than the 88% that passed between 2016 and 2018, according to data from Purdue University.

Under Indiana’s system of funding schools, money to pay teachers, staff and administrators and to fund most day-to-day operations comes from the state, appropriated by the legislature in the two-year state budget. Money for buildings and transportation comes from local property taxes.

But if schools need more operating money than the state provides, they can turn to local voters in a referendum. Continue reading