Indiana’s school funding formula remains in dire need of an upgrade

March 2, 2015 Gregory W. Porter

For immediate release:
March 2, 2015

 

STATEHOUSE – State Rep. Gregory W. Porter, Ranking Democrat on the House Ways & Means Committee, last week issued the following column to newspapers statewide:

The ink had barely dried on the biennial state budget approved by the Indiana House Republican supermajority when it was discovered that the school funding formula that the budget supposedly had “fixed” hadn’t been fixed at all.

It turns out that flawed data involving the free and reduced lunch program had been used to make erroneous calculations to determine how much state support school districts receive. While “oops” appears to be the preferred response here, I’m not sure that calms the fears of school officials in places like Indianapolis and Fort Wayne that already were facing losses in the millions, and looked to be in an even deeper hole before the mistake was found.

While there is plenty of time for the Indiana Senate supermajority to correct the mistake made by their counterparts in the House, this debate only scratches the surface in what is wrong with discussions about school funding and our next state budget.

Nothing has been “fixed” in the school funding formula currently under debate in the Indiana General Assembly. This proposal is merely the next step in a drastic reformation of education spending that began under the Daniels Administration and will not stop until our traditional public schools are starved fiscally to pay for a continually growing system that places greater emphasis on vouchers and private schools.

Here are the basics: the House Republican budget reduces state support for 139 schools across Indiana in the first year of the budget and 80 in the second year.

Some school corporations do benefit in the budget. They can be found in suburban areas of our state, where per capita incomes are not suffering.

And while it is tempting to portray large urban school districts as the biggest victims here, the dirty little secret of the changes made in school funding in recent years has been its devastating impact upon rural areas of Indiana.

Like their counterparts in big cities, these folks are having an increasingly tough time giving their students a quality education, offering a variety of programs that help those students develop their innate skills, and keeping facilities in good, working condition. Their parents will continue to fork over hundreds of dollars each year for textbooks and materials.

It isn’t easy for them, and it will continue to get worse.

One big reason it will get worse is that this budget continues the unchecked growth in vouchers and charter schools. Recent days have seen the announcement that voucher growth in Indiana has grown dramatically, and if our governor gets his way, there won’t even be a cap on the amount of money we pay for vouchers. They will be free and clear to get as much of your tax dollars as possible.

More money for vouchers means less money for public schools, which means this is a good time to remind you that the House Republican budget fails to make it clear just how much of your tax dollars are being spent on each of the various education systems we now have in Indiana. During deliberations, House Democrats tried to require an accurate accounting of what type of system—public schools, charters and vouchers—got how much funding, but the Republicans just said no.

The House Republicans said no to a lot of things proposed by House Democrats that would have improved this budget. Like restoring the $300 million in cuts made to our public schools by the Daniels Administration to help maintain a bloated surplus. Or eliminating the textbook tax that so many families across this state have to pay for their children.

So we are left with a flawed document that might be improved mechanically, but won’t address the core problems facing our public schools — the ones that are constitutionally required to educate all our children, no matter how much…or how little funding they have.

There is time to correct this ship, but I fear those who set us on this course will choose to simply state that we are going to dedicate more money toward education than any other budget in history. Furthermore, they will pat themselves on the back for giving teachers across Indiana a tax credit to help cover the expenses they incur when they have to pay for the supplies used by their students.

And why do teachers have to do that? Because their school districts cannot afford it.

And why can’t school districts afford it? Because their funding keeps getting cut by the state of Indiana.

That’s the kind of fix we’re in. And it is not going to be fixed by what is going on at the Statehouse right now.