More state funding for public education over the next two years won’t be enough for everything schools need for students, but it will help, some local school officials say.
Others in education are concerned changes to the funding formula in the state’s biennial budget, signed by Gov. Mike Pence in May, will hurt schools’ efforts to provide services to students of low-income families.
Schools with increasing enrollments stand to benefit the most from the state’s plan, including Jackson County’s largest district — Seymour Community School Corp.
The school district receives $5,848.43 per student in state support based on its current student count number of 4,280 students, said Steve Nauman, the district’s business manager.
In 2015-16, Seymour is expected to receive $6,490 per student based on a projected growth of 141 students, an increase of nearly $642 per student. That amount will jump by another $160 per student to $6,650 in 2016-17 if the district grows by another 142 students.
Should those student enrollment projections hold true, Nauman said, the additional funding will be used to hire more staff, provide more professional development opportunities to teachers to improve instruction, add more technology resources for students and possibly increase wages for employees.
“It’s never going to be enough, but any increase is helpful and appreciated,” Nauman said.
He said he’s also glad to see the state now fully funding all-day kindergarten programs. Until now, kindergarten students have counted as only half a student for funding purposes.
“That is a benefit for Seymour Community Schools and all other school corporations throughout the state,” he said.
Schools experiencing declining enrollments will struggle to maintain services, though, he added.
“Student funding is good as long as you are growing,” Nauman said. “If you start to decline, you have to cut services and staff to survive.”
That seems to be the case for Crothersville Community School Corp., which faces eliminating some positions.
Terry Goodin, superintendent of Crothersville Schools and state District 66 representative, did not respond to recent questions about the district’s funding. In the past, however, Goodin, D-Austin, said he was concerned with the changes to the funding formula.
Some students are more at-risk and difficult to educate than others, and the formula lessens how much school districts receive for those students, he said.
The new funding formula is based on a complexity index that uses a school’s free-lunch rate to determine its poverty level and need. In the past, the number of students receiving a reduced-cost lunch also contributed to a district’s complexity. The change causes some of the biggest and poorest school districts in the state, including Indianapolis Public Schools, to lose the most money.
With the new formula, most schools will see overall increases in funding for special education, career and technology education, and honors programs. Because of the change in the complexity index, however, funding for students from low-income families is expected to be cut.
Goodin has said the funding formula should be based more on need.
Republicans at the Statehouse contend the new formula reduces the gap in per-student funding between the highest- and lowest-funded public schools and forces the funding to follow the children wherever they go to school.
“That sounds great; but in reality, it doesn’t necessarily happen that way,” Goodin said.
He said Crothersville’s enrollment is going to decline some, and that will mean less money.
Even if the Seymour district doesn’t grow as much as projected, Nauman said, he doesn’t expect the corporation will see any decrease in funding or staff.
With growing enrollments, however, comes the need for more classroom space and bigger facilities, a problem that can cost millions of dollars to fix, he said.
Seymour already has expanded Emerson Elementary School, is finishing up an addition at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School and will start work at Cortland Elementary School soon.
But other buildings, including Seymour-Jackson and Seymour-Redding elementary schools, Seymour Middle School Sixth Grade Center and Seymour High School, face crowding issues, Nauman said.
“Our biggest concern at this time is growth, at what buildings and how many students per building,” he said. “Some of our buildings are full, so growth could be a struggle for us in some locations.”
Although the state budget has been approved by legislators and signed into law, there are still plenty of unknowns about how much money school districts will actually receive over the next two years, said Harry Rochner, business manager for Brownstown Central Community School Corp.
“We are still a long way from knowing what the final revenue will be,” he said.
With current calculations, Rochner said, the state has projected Brownstown will see an increase in state support of $157 per student in 2016, going from $6,157 to $6,314. That amount will increase by another $97 per student in 2017, bringing the school’s per-student funding to $6,411.
All amounts are subject to change depending on the district’s final student counts, which include the number of students in vocational, special education and honors programs and full-day kindergarten, Rochner said.
“Most of our final numbers for all these revenues will be determined in September except for special education, and that number is not determined until December,” he said.
Rochner said he is concerned with the state’s decision to cut Brownstown’s Title I funding for the next two years because that shortfall will have to be made up from the school’s general fund.
The school district also has experienced declining enrollment since 2006, when the student count was 1,753. Currently, enrollment at Brownstown stands at 1,611, a drop of 142 students in just under 10 years.
The drop would have been worse if it weren’t for an increase in transfer students, going from 10 in 2006 to 95 this year, he said.
Rochner said he is working on the district’s 2016 budget and will continue to fine-tune it as information becomes available. The 2015 fiscal year ends June 30.
“I will present our final budget to the school board on July 30 for their review,” he said. “But we are very cautious as we work through this process each year until we actually receive our final confirmed numbers.”
At one of the state’s smallest school corporations, Medora Community Schools, things are holding steady, Superintendent Roger Bane said.
The district is set to see an estimated increase of around $463 per student in state support, going from $6,315 to $6,778 per student. That amount will increase again in 2017 by $171 per student to $6,949, Bane said.
The additional money allows the district to fund its budget, add more student programs and compensate staff members who have not seen an increase in pay for several years, Bane said.
But that’s only if the school doesn’t experience a drop in enrollment.
“As long as our student enrollment holds at 250, we will be fine,” he said. “We are not looking to make any personnel cuts for next school year.”
Bane said he sympathizes with Crothersville’s situation and agreed with Goodin that some students take more money to educate.
“It’s upsetting to me that our state leaders can’t recognize that not all children require the same amount of money to educate,” he said. “I feel really bad that some of Medora’s neighboring schools were big losers due to the funding formula and new state budget.”