As we enter the budget-building season for area school districts, leaders face many challenges.
The recent state budget does not provide sufficient funding to meet the demands of 21st century learning, private schools garnered a greater share of the allocation of dollars for K-12 education in Indiana, and state tuition support has become less consistent.
The Indiana budget passed this spring (2 percent increase in 2013 and 1 percent in 2014), reflected the lowest increase for schools in the past 16 years other than 2009 and 2011, when state tax revenues were down because of the Great Recession.
While any increase is welcomed by administrators who will be building school district budgets over the next two months, the actual amount districts will receive must be analyzed more deeply.
First, after considering the amount of money to be siphoned off to fund private school vouchers, the increase to public K-12 schools will not keep up with the projected inflation rate of 1.6 percent. This will be the third straight budget that fails to provide schools with enough money to keep up with increased energy and operational costs.
Second, tax revenue forecasts were all positive and the state Legislature forgave $91 million in loans to charter school operators. This amount, if allocated to public K-12 tuition support, would have provided an additional 1 percent in 2014. With an additional $500 million in tax cuts, it seems obvious public K-12 is not a high priority for legislators.
Finally, when discussing the allocation to K-12 education, every concerned Hoosier needs to consider the amount siphoned away from public schools. The money used to pay for school choice scholarships (vouchers) to be used for private school tuition comes directly from the money allocated to K-12 education. Thus any significant increase in vouchers might further reduce the stated increases to public K-12 education.
The expanded voucher bill, (HB 1003), increases the amount each qualifying private school child will receive by 4.5 percent while increases for children in public schools will be less than 2 percent. These decisions clearly reflect a lower priority for funding public education.
An additional student enrollment count
When building the school budget, leaders have traditionally made many assumptions as they determined allocations for overhead and wages. In the past, the student enrollment figure submitted to the state in September determined the support a district would receive for the following calendar year.
The recent budget bill provided new guidelines for school funding which now requires schools to submit a second enrollment count in February. State support for the second half of the school year will be based on the February enrollment count. The majority of school districts in the state will receive less funding during the second semester due to early graduation. The ability to accurately project the number of December graduates from year to year is tricky. This fluctuation in school funding during the school year adds one more variable to an already complex budget-building process.
As public schools continue to adjust programs to prepare the highest quality graduate ever, our state must make a significantly stronger financial commitment to public K-12 education.