The Indiana General Assembly will focus on a two-year state budget as well as adjustments this year. The greatest impact on the state budget will be the dollars appropriated for education.
This impact is by design. In 2008 the state legislators decided the general fund, the primary source of school funding, would be supported by income and sales taxes instead of property taxes.
With the takeover of the schools, it became the responsibility of our legislators to adequately fund education. However, since 2010, basic funding for schools has been cut more than $300 million each year. The reason was an economic slowdown which reduced state revenues.
These cuts have seen local school districts throughout the state reducing programs, teachers, administrators and support staff. The impact on the state has been a budget surplus of more than $2 billion.
It is time for our state legislators to resume their responsibility of adequately funding education.
The reduction of $300 million available to school districts each year since 2010 has made it necessary for many school corporations to seek an operating tax levy increase from their local taxpayers through a referendum. This requires the local school board to pass a resolution to put a question on the ballot to raise the levy for the district’s general fund to a level which will maintain programs and staff.
If the local community approves the increase at the ballot box, the district receives the funds the following year for up to seven years. If the local populace does not approve the increase, the district is forced to make the required reduction of programs and staff.
The Union Township School Board has passed a resolution to conduct a referendum in May. MSD of Boone Township and the School Town of Munster are also considering such action. Duneland School Corp. also had a referendum last year.
Most referendums have failed to pass in Indiana since the legislation has required such actions.
The superintendents of the Northwest Indiana Public School Study Council, representing 24 school districts, recommend that legislators focus their attention on the "foundation level" of state support per student. The $300 million cut came directly from the foundation level, which is the amount legislators believe is the minimum dollars necessary to properly educate a public school child.
In 2008, this minimum level of necessary funding was just under $4,900 per student. Since the education cuts, that foundation level has decreased to $4,400 per student. That level is at a 10-year low and significantly impacts school districts which have traditionally received less funding. Surprisingly, these lower-funded districts tend to be the higher academically achieving districts.
The Legislature must restore the foundation level of funding to at least its 2008 levels. Ideally, the $300 million should be restored to public schools' general funds. This makes much more sense than an insignificant taxpayer rebate.
Restoring these funds could go a significant way to achieve adequate funding for all of Indiana’s students.