Mixed picture for CARES Act school funding

The bad news about CARES Act funding for schools is that there’s not nearly enough of it. For some school districts, there’s very little. More federal aid may be coming, but we don’t know when or how much.

The good news: In Indiana, at least, public school districts won’t need to worry about Betsy DeVos diverting their anticipated funding to private schools.

DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, may still succeed in her scheme to use the act to boost funding for even the wealthiest private schools. But the Indiana Department of Education will make up any funds that are lost to public schools.

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Indiana schools chief stands up to DeVos

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is taking bold action by rejecting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and distributing emergency aid for schools the way Congress intended.

Jennifer McCormick

Jennifer McCormick

It’s remarkable that, thanks to McCormick, Indiana appears to be the first state to openly push back against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and refuse to follow guidance that it deems to be contrary to the law.

At issue is funding from the CARES Act, which provides $13.2 billion to help schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools can use the money to improve technology, protect student health and plan for the next school year.

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Coming recession could devastate school funding

A recession is coming, and the consequences are likely to be devastating for public schools – unless state and federal policymakers learn from the last downturn and take smart steps to cushion the blow.

That’s the message of “The Coronavirus Pandemic and K-12 Funding,” a new report from the Albert Shanker Institute. It points out that schools in many states never recovered from the 2007-09 recession. Now they are about to be hit with another one, and it may be worse.

“That is, many jurisdictions will be facing a possibly unprecedented funding crisis while they are still digging out from the last one,” co-authors Bruce Baker and Matthew Di Carlo write.

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Indiana school funding lacks effort

The second annual “The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems” report is out. And if it were awarding grades, Indiana could expect a D-minus for effort.

The report, produced by researchers at the Albert Shanker Institute and the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, builds on the growing scholarly consensus that spending more money on schools leads to better results.

“In other words,” it says, “the evidence is clear that money does, indeed, matter.”

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‘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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