In a recent front page article, state Sen. Eddie Melton made an inaccurate and, quite frankly, irresponsible statement about state funding for K-12 schools. Specifically, Melton’s claim that “state funds to schools, on average, have been kept the same despite inflation,” is patently false.
As chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, I rely on data and facts to guide policy decisions, and it pains me to see a fellow lawmaker casually make a public statement that is based on neither.
Here are a few key facts on state funding for K-12 schools that are supported by independently verifiable data maintained by the Indiana Department of Education.
First, let me emphasize that funding for K-12 schools is the highest priority for the Indiana General Assembly. In the recently enacted state budget, 51 cents of every dollar was appropriated to K-12 education. This equates to more than $16.5 billion dedicated to K-12 education programs over the next two years — the most state funding ever provided in support of K-12 schools.
Second, annual direct state aid to K-12 schools has increased by nearly $1 billion over the past 10 years. Over the same period, the total number of students funded by the state has essentially remained the same, which leads me to another very important fact. To ensure fairness and equity for all Hoosier children, Indiana’s public school funding formula allocates funds on a per-student basis.
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In my tenure as Ways and Means chairman, the primary goal has been to drive that per-student funding number up, and, in the past eight years alone, we have been able to increase the per-student foundation grant — which helps every student and every public school in the state — by 24 percent. So if you have ever wondered what happens to the hundreds of millions of new state dollars dedicated to K-12 schools each year, the answer is that it goes directly to support each and every one of the more than 1 million children enrolled in Indiana public schools.
Last, despite what you have been told, the General Assembly has not spuriously directed all of this new money to public charter schools and low-income families who choose to send their children to private schools. Based on IDOE’s data from the most recently completed school year, traditional public schools educated 93.1 percent of Indiana’s students, yet received 94.1 percent of all direct state aid to K-12 schools.
I understand that the crux of the article was to offer explanations for why some schools in Northwest Indiana are seeking additional funding through the referendum process. I take no issue with any school that finds it necessary to ask its taxpayers for additional financial support. However, when advocating for a referendum, I believe that schools and local officials are obligated to be honest with taxpayers about the many factors that may have led to a particular school’s financial hardship.
State funding is, of course, one of these factors, but other significant factors may also be at play, including shifting demographics, population changes, societal challenges, economic trends, internal financial management practices, hiring more non-teaching staff, or, yes, even the constitutional property tax caps passed overwhelmingly by statewide referendum to protect taxpayers.
To blindly place all of the blame on the state is to ignore or, in some cases, divert attention away from many of the real underlying issues that are impacting a school’s financial situation.