The Indiana Department of Education submitted its budget request to the state last month.
The department submits budgets every two years to recommend the state’s financial support for K-12 education in the state. State legislatures take into account those recommendations when crafting an overall budget for the state.
This year, the DOE is asking for funds for public and private pre-K throughout the state, an increase in funds for smaller schools and an increase in technology spending while providing a two percent increase each year in tuition support.
“Budgets reflect priorities,” Glenda Ritz said. “And there is no greater priority than our children and investments that we need to make in their future.”
The total increase in tuition support amounts to $455 million over the biennium compared to the 2016-17 school year, while phasing in pre-K in every community is expected to come to $147 million in the first year. The department previously identified unused reversions totalling less than one percent of Indiana’s budget that can fund high quality, public and private pre-K. If enacted, this budget request would represent the largest investment in education in state history.
Warrick County School Corporation Superintendent Brad Schneider said if the state is able to make that increase in funding, schools across the state would see a much needed rise in funding. However, Schneider said he is skeptical of the proposal.
“It’s a huge amount of money,” he said. “But we’re not going to find that funding, it’s going to come from somewhere else.”
Schneider said great proposals of increased funding in the past have come with a deduction from another area. He said it’s important to provide relief for Indiana families and for schools in smaller communities, but not at the expense of other programs and corporations.
“We’re just moving money around,” he said. “We’re just moving chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”
However, Schneider said he doesn’t deny the fact that funding for pre-K, small schools and textbook rental fees are important. He said the money for those programs are desperately needed across the state.
“It’s time we pony up and pay for textbooks,” he said. “But we have to look at the price tag. There’s other things we can do with that money.”
Schneider said a major shift in funding came when changes were made to the funding formula for corporations. He said changes were needed, but there is still work to do.
“It has just made our jobs more difficult,” he said. “We run out of money before we run out of ideas to help make the schools better.”
Indiana changed it’s funding model in 2009 when the state took steps to be more directly involved in deciding where funds would be allocated. As a direct result, most districts have complained and have considered the system to be unfair.
Schneider said one major change was the way in which taxes provided the funding for individual funds within Warrick County School Corporation’s budget. Currently, no property tax monies are used to support the corporation’s general fund, which pays for the salaries and benefits of the corporation’s nearly 1,000 employees. Instead, the general fund is solely fueled by money from the state. Any property taxes allocated to the corporation are marked specifically for the capital projects fund and the transportation fund.
“As an educational institution, our biggest expense is our people,” Schneider said. “It costs money to hire professional teachers.”
According to WCSC’s annual financial report, the corporation was only given a total of $87,998,305.64 to spend in the 2015 fiscal year. Almost three-quarters of the expenditures were from the General Fund. Nearly half of those General Fund expenditures were solely spent in instruction and remediation.
Unlike some small and rural school corporations, WCSC reported enrollment numbers have seen a continual increase over the past five years. WCSC enrollment has risen by more than 200 students from 9,924 to 10,142 students in those five years, while the income of the corporation has risen by $2.88 million over the last four years.
Warrick County has seen the most rise compared to other corporations in the area. South Spencer County School Corporation has seen the most loss in the area, with a loss of 183 students between enrollment reporting in the 2011-12 school year and the report for the 2015-16 school year. In the same time frame, Pike County School Corporation saw a loss of 89 students, North Gibson School Corporation saw a loss of 78 students and East Gibson School Corporation saw a loss of 51 students. South Gibson School Corporation and North Spencer County were the only two other corporations in the area to see a gain in the last five years with a rise of 16 and 77 students, respectively. Despite fluctuations in the years in between, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporations enrollment numbers were reported as the same in the 2011-12 school year as they were reported in the 2015-16 school year.
Schneider said the worst part of the budget crisis many superintendents are facing is that the corporations are put in a position to compete with neighboring districts. He said when funding is cut, corporations are forced to make cuts in programs and people. In turn, parents choose to move their kids to a school that can afford to provide desired programs and the original school loses more funding from the students who left as a result.
“At $5,500 per kid, when you add 100 kids you raise half a million dollars,” he said. “When the district loses kids they lose that funding. It puts districts in a poor position.”
Schneider said he doesn’t compete with neighboring districts and doesn’t want to start. He said he hopes all children in the area will succeed, not just those from Warrick County.
“It’s never felt healthy,” he said. “Those kids are going to lead the way and make important decisions for our future, not just in Warrick County or in Indiana, but possibly the world.”
“We don’t sell Fords, Chevys or Toyotas. We’re educating children,” Schneider said.
Overall, Schneider said he hopes people take the time to consider education at the polls this November. He said it’s important for voters to keep education at the forefront when deciding on candidates for any office.
“I hope people think about which candidate they support and vote for those who support public education,” he said. “Our kids are our future. If we don’t invest in our future, we only have ourselves to blame.”
The general assembly will craft a two-year budget when it convenes in January. In previous years, funding for education has represented more than half of the state’s overall budget.