Follow the money

All Indianapolis districts gain state dollars under Senate budget plan

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students at Sidener Academy in Indianapolis Public Schools read or do homework.

Indiana Senate Republicans want to boost funding for teacher bonuses and reduce losses for school districts serving lots of poor students, according to a budget plan released Thursday.

The Senate proposal calls for raising education funding by $358 million, or 3.25 percent, over the next two years — the most of any state budget plan presented this year. Per-student funding would also increase slightly to $5,274 in 2019, up from the $5,088 school districts received in 2017.

The plan includes few surprises, but marks the next phase of the state’s budget negotiations. The House proposed a smaller $273 million, 2.8 percent funding increase for education last month, although the House plan would include higher per-student funding. Much of the Senate increase appears to come from the provisions for teacher bonuses and poor students.

According to Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the budget-making Appropriations Committee, the funding increase includes $40 million per year directed at the “complexity index,” which determines how much extra money districts receive to educate poor students. That will primarily benefit urban and rural schools, he said. Based on changes to how that formula is calculated, most districts still lose complexity dollars, but in the Senate plan, the losses are less steep than what the House projected.

“We thought that Indiana has a good reputation across the nation as funding those who have the greatest needs, so we thought we needed to work on that a little bit more,” Kenley said. “I think it’s an equitable result.”

Democrats applauded those increases, though the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Karen Tallian, said they weren’t enough.

Under the Senate’s budget, every district in Marion County sees its basic state aid and per-student funding increase, including Indianapolis Public Schools, which would receive cuts in the House plan.

Growing suburban districts like Zionsville and Hamilton Southeastern would get sizable funding bumps from the Senate, while shrinking districts, including East Chicago and Gary, would lose state money. But overall, the state’s poorest districts seem to fare better under the Senate’s plan than the House’s.

The Senate’s budget also adds back in $40 million per year for teacher bonuses, which the House had removed from earlier proposals — one of a number of changes proposed by state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. The bonus program would work slightly differently than it has in years past, and dole out money based on school enrollment rather than ISTEP scores. The change comes after wide disparities in last year’s bonuses were criticized by educators across the state.

“We think, number one, that we need to make sure we get more money to the classroom teacher,” Kenley said. “We think teachers everywhere that are doing a good job should be rewarded for that.”

The Senate’s new plan would distribute $39 per student to each district in the state. That money would then be divvied up among teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” Of that money, up to 50 percent could be added into a teacher’s base salary. That would help teachers boost their future pension payments, which year-end stipends do not, Tallian said.

Like the House budget plan, the Senate budget increases funding for English learners, but it weights that funding toward schools where English learners make up at least 5 percent of their enrollment. Overall, an additional $11.5 million is set aside for those schools over the next two years.

The Senate plan also adds in requirements for virtual schools, mandating that they report information about class size, teacher-per-student ratios, and how often teachers have in-person meetings to the education department each year. Those schools wouldn’t qualify for the English-learner or teacher bonus grants, and would only get 90 percent of the basic per-student funding amount from the state, as they do now. The House’s plan would increase that to 100 percent.

The state’s voucher program would see its funding grow over the next two years under the Senate plan, as with the House plan. Indiana is projected to spend more than $156 million by 2018 and $167 million by 2019 on the program, up from $146 million in 2017. The Senate also includes those figures as a budget line item, rather than just as part of the funding formula, which Kenley said was more transparent. Tallian agreed.

“It’s a great move that we’ve been calling for for several years,” she said.

The Senate budget also includes:

  • $16 million per year for the state’s preschool program, a $4 million increase per year. The proposal also allows programs from all 92 counties participate, rather than the current five — similar to bills that passed out of the Senate earlier this year.
  • $1 million per year for a home-based early education program called UpStart.
  • $500,000 per year for dual language immersion programs.
  • $1 million per year to “align” initiatives regarding science, technology, engineering and math education.
  • $12.5 million per year for the Charter and Innovation Network School Grant Program.
  • Funding increases for special education and honors grants.
  • Funding increases for Advanced Placement and PSAT testing.

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana lawmakers OK up to $100 million to address funding shortage for schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Indiana lawmakers agreed to dip into reserves to make up a shortfall to get public schools the money they were promised — and they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the final plan in House Bill 1001. The bill now heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Rep. Tim Brown, a co-author of the bill and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it was necessary to take the uncommon step and have the state to use reserve funds to make up the gap, but in the next budget year making up that difference will be a priority. Brown said he, other lawmakers, and the Legislative Services Agency will work to make sure projections are more accurate going forward.

“Do procedures need to be changed?” Brown said. “We’re going to be asking those questions” during the next budget cycle.

Estimates on the size of the shortfall have ranged widely this year, beginning around $9 million and growing as new information and student counts came in. Projections from the Legislative Services Agency reported by the Indianapolis Star had the gap at $22 million this year and almost $60 million next year.

The final bill requires the state to transfer money from reserves if public school enrollment is higher than expected, as well as to make up any shortages for students with disabilities or students pursuing career and technical education. The state budget director would have to sign off first. Transfers from reserves are already allowed if more voucher students enroll in private schools than projected, or if state revenue is less than expected.

The budget shortfall, discovered late last year, resulted from miscalculations in how many students were expected to attend public schools over the next two years. Lawmakers proposed two bills to address the shortfall, and the House made it its highest legislative priority. The compromise bill would set aside up to $25 million for this year and up to $75 million next year. The money would be transferred from reserve funds to the state general fund and then distributed to districts.

The bill also takes into account two other programs that lawmakers think could be contributing to underestimated public school enrollment: virtual education programs and kids who repeat kindergarten.

District-based virtual education programs would be required to report to the state by October of each year on virtual program enrollment, total district enrollment, what grades the virtual students are in, where they live, and how much of their day is spent in a virtual learning program. These programs, unlike virtual charter schools, are not separate schools, so it can be hard for state officials and the public to know they even exist.

The report will help lawmakers understand how the programs are growing and how much they might cost, but it won’t include information about whether students in the programs are learning or graduating. Virtual charter schools in the state have typically posted poor academic results, and Holcomb has called for more information and action, though legislative efforts have failed.

Finally, the bill changes how kindergarteners are counted for state funding. The state changed the cut-off age for kindergarten to 5 years old by Aug. 1 — if students are younger than that, they can still enroll, but the district won’t receive state dollars for them. Some districts were allowing 4-year-olds to enroll in kindergarten early, Sen. Ryan Mishler said earlier this month. Then those same students would enroll in kindergarten again the next year.

Despite increases passed last year to boost the total education budget, many school leaders have said they struggle to pay salaries and maintain buildings, which is why funding shortfalls — even small ones — matter. This year’s unexpected shortfall was particularly problematic because districts had already made plans based on the state budget.

Find all of Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.