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

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Some schools miss out on funding increase

Indiana legislators have been boasting this week about the “historic” increase in school funding they’ve included in the state budget. But Brown County School District Superintendent Laura Hammack has been thinking about how to cut spending by about $200,000 a year.

State base funding for Brown County schools will be reduced by that much under the two-year budget and school funding formula that lawmakers approved Wednesday.

Laura Hammack

“We have to make sure our revenues match our expenditures,” Hammack said. “To do that we have to reduce the budget.”

The state budget increases K-12 funding by 2.5 % each of the next two years. That’s better than lawmakers have done in recent budget sessions. As Hammack said, it could have been worse. But it barely matches the U.S. inflation rate of 2.4% predicted by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. And an outsized share goes to growing charter and voucher schools.

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Crunch time for school funding, teacher pay

This chart from Forbes Statistica has been all over social media in Indiana in recent weeks, as well it should be. I wonder if Indiana legislators have seen it – and if they have, if they’re paying attention.

It shows that Indiana ranks dead last when it comes to increases in teacher salaries over the past 15 years. Pay for Hoosier teachers has increased by less than $7,000, not adjusted for inflation. That’s less than half the increase seen in neighboring states Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

The legislature is hitting the home stretch on its 2019 session. By far the most important business left to resolve is approving a two-year state budget, including funding for schools. So far, lawmakers have proposed K-12 funding that barely keeps up with inflation. That needs to change.

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Senate budget is better but not by much

UPDATE: The Senate budget bill now includes the same expansion to Indiana’s voucher program that the House approved last month. The Senate added the voucher provision as an amendment late Monday. It approved the budget today. Differences between the two versions will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.

The Indiana Senate took some modest steps in the right direction with the state budget that it approved last week. For education, it improves on the House-approved version on several counts.

  • The Senate budget bill allocates more money for K-12 schools: an increase of 2.7% in the first year of the biennium and 2.2% in the second year versus 2.2% each year for the House version.
  • It keeps more of the funding with public schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools, spending less on virtual charter schools.
  • It provides a little more money for “complexity,” the factor in the funding formula that gives more money to schools serving disadvantaged students.

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Funding falls short on effort, fairness

Indiana’s highest-poverty school districts spend only 65 percent of what’s needed for their students to achieve modest academic success, according to a new education finance report from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the Albert Shanker Institute.

Is it because we can’t afford to do better? Not at all. Indiana is near the bottom of the states when it comes to funding “effort,” the percentage of gross state product spent on schools.

It’s more compelling evidence that state legislators should be thinking a lot bigger as they decide how much of the two-year state budget to spend on K-12 education.

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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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