Charter operators are grasping at funding straws. They now want access to public school referendum tax dollars. But charters do not provide the same transparency of budget, expenditures, or governance and decision-making that public schools do. Before local property taxes go to charters, we should know how much their teachers are being paid and if they are getting insurance and benefits. We should know what is being spent in the classroom versus what is being spent on administrative costs. And we should know that we have a democratic voice in their governance—we should be able to elect their board members. In other words, to receive local property taxes, they should look and act a lot more like public schools than they do now.
Charters are not the only underfunded schools in Indiana.
In the months leading up to May and November—election season in Indiana—parents, teachers, and community leaders meet, strategize, and hammer out the logistics of campaigns. They donate time and money, make calls and knock on doors, because they want their local school districts to be able to continue to offer theater and music, world languages, p.e., and art. They want reasonable class sizes. And they want to retain teachers, coaches, janitors, and bus drivers. They can’t depend on the state of Indiana to provide what’s needed. Their unpaid volunteer labor is required just to get a question on the ballot, and to make a case for why voters should say “yes.”
Indiana is a referendum state, and has been for over a decade. What we call a “referendum” is known in other parts of the country as a “school tax levy”—a self-imposed additional property tax taken on by local voters to augment state funding for public schools. Usually this is for construction efforts, like building an addition or replacing windows. But in Indiana, it is also for day-to-day operations, like paying a classroom teacher. For example, the operational school tax levy, or referendum, for Monroe County Community School Corporation pays for 80 classroom teachers.
What brought Indiana public schools to such dire straits? Then-governor Mitch Daniels centralized the bulk of school funding and then cut the state school budget by $300 million in 2009. Indiana has underfunded its schools every year since. Not only has school funding not kept up with inflation, but lawmakers have channeled billions in public funds into private schools (through the school choice voucher program) and charter schools, which are called public schools in statute but are privately managed and appoint their own boards.
Simply to maintain adequate levels of staffing and programs for students, school districts must pass referenda. In this way, referenda are an instrument of disparity: districts that have the capacity—in terms of a tax base, volunteers, and businesses and individuals willing to pitch in to pay for a campaign—can pass a referendum and maintain the quality of their schools. School districts that don’t are forced to make painful cuts, losing teachers and programs.
Now, with House Bill 1072, which passed out of committee Thursday, Jan 20, 2022, legislators want to force school districts to share those desperately needed referendum funds with charter schools attended by children living in the school district boundaries. The state’s Legislative Services Agency calculated what the cost of this would be in the fiscal note attached to the bill: “In 2021, there were a combined 67 school operating or safety referenda levies. If school corporations were required to distribute a portion of their levies to nonvirtual charter schools, charter schools would have received an estimated $24.8 M of the $402.8 M certified referenda levies.” In other words, had the proposed law been in place in 2021, 6% of the money generated by school referenda would have gone to charter schools.
This is offensive on multiple levels. To state it baldly: Charter schools do not share the basic mission of serving all students in a community. They do not welcome and make room for every child. They do not answer to communities through elected boards. They should not be funded at the expense of the schools that do.
Here are seven reasons that lawmakers should reject House Bill 1072:
House Bill 1072 now goes to the full House for consideration. Contact your legislator and tell them to vote NO. Let sharing referendum funds be a local decision as it involves local tax dollars.
P.S. Want to get more specific about who to contact? Back in the dark ages…oh actually, back in 2020, it was controversial to even imagine giving school districts the option to share referendum proceeds with charters. An addendum to a bill that was sneaked in at the last moment said that districts *could* share referendum proceeds with charters. That addendum barely made it through.
These senators voted against the amendment. Ask them to vote NO again.
Sen Alting (R)
Sen Becker (R)
Sen Bohacek (R)
Sen Boots (R)
Sen Breaux (D)
Sen Buchanan (R)
Sen Crider (R)
Seon Donato (R)
Sen JD Ford (D)
Sen Freeman (R)
Sen Glick (R)
Sen Grooms (R) (retired, replaced by Kevin Boehnlein)
Sen Koch (R)
Sen Lanane (D)
Sen Melton (D)
Sen Mrvan (D)
Sen Neimeyer (R)
Sen Niezgodski (D)
Sen Randolph (D)
Sen Ruckelshaus (R) (replaced by Fady Qaddoura)
Sen Stoops (D) (retired, replaced by Shelli Yoder)
Sen Taylor (D)
Sen Tomes (R)
Sen Walker (R)
Sen Young (R)
These representatives voted against the bill when it came back from the Senate with the new language. Ask them to vote NO again.
Rep Cook (R)
Rep Frye (R)
Rep Lyness (R)
Rep McNamara (R)
Rep Pressel (R)
Rep VanNatter (R)
Rep Vermillion (R)
Rep Young (R)
And if you live in one of these districts, your district passed an operating or school safety referendum in 2016 or later. Contact your legislators and tell them to vote NO on HB 1072.
Anderson Community School Corporation, Madison County
Avon Community School Corporation, Hendricks County
Barr-Reeve Community Schools, Daviess County
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, Bartholomew County
Beech Grove City School Corporation, Marion County
Benton Community School Corporation, Benton County
Bremen Public Schools, Marshall County
Brown County Schools, Brown County
Cannelton City School Corporation, Perry County
Carmel Clay School Corporation, Hamilton County
Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation, Johnson County
Clinton Central School Corporation, Clinton County
Crown Point Community School Corporation, Lake County
Culver Community School Corporation, Marshall County
Duneland School Corporation, Porter County
Eminence Community School Corporation, Morgan County
Franklin Community School Corporation, Johnson County
Frontier School Corporation, White County
Gary Community School Corporation, Lake County
Goshen Community Schools, Elkhart County
Hamilton Community School Corporation, DeKalb & Steuben Counties
Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Hamilton County
Hanover Community School Corporation, Lake County
Indianapolis Public Schools, Marion County
Lake Central School Corporation, Lake County
Lake Station Community Schools, Lake County
Lanesville Community School Corporation, Harrison County
Monroe County Community School Corporation, Monroe County
MSD Boone Township, Porter County
MSD Decatur Township, Marion County
MSD of Southwest Allen County, Allen County
MSD of Warren Township, Marion County
MSD Washington Township, Marion County
MSD Wayne Township, Marion County
Noblesville School Corporation, Hamilton County
Noblesville Schools, Hamilton County
Northeast Dubois County School Corporation, Dubois County
Oregon Davis School Corporation, Starke County
Prairie Heights Community School Corporation, LaGrange County
River Forest Community School Corporation, Lake County
School City of Hammond, Lake County
School City of Hobart, Lake County
School City of Mishawaka, St. Joseph County
School Town of Munster, Lake County
School Town of Speedway, Marion County
Sheridan Community Schools, Hamilton County
Smith-Green Community School Corporation
South Bend Community School Corporation, St Joseph County
Southeast Dubois County School Corporation, Dubois County
Southern Wells Community Schools, Wells County
Tri-County School Corporation, White County
Union Township Community School Corporation, Porter County
Vigo County School Corporation, Vigo County
Wa-Nee Community School Corporation, Elkhart County
West Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe County
Western Wayne Schools, Wayne County
Westfield Washington Schools, Hamilton County
Westview School Corporation, LaGrange County
Zionsville Community Schools, Boone County
–Jenny Robinson and Keri Miksza
P.S. Our state Indiana Coalition for Public Education has clipped some excellent testimony on HB 1072:
Dr. Robert Taylor, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Superintendents, expresses his concerns about charters being prone to closing.
Representative Cherrish Pryor, House District 94, remembers how charters were sold as being able to do a better job with less money.
Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County (ICPE–Monroe County) advocates for all children to have high quality, equitable, well-funded schools that are subject to democratic oversight by their communities.
We are a nonpartisan and nonprofit group of parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and other community members of Monroe County and surrounding areas.