The House has voted to tell our K-12 students that money isn't there for them and school funding must be put back to the levels of the Great Recession.
On Monday (Feb. 27) the Indiana House passed a budget that gives a meager 1.1% increase for our K-12 students for next year, 2017-18. A 1.1% increase matches the 2009-10 budget written in January 2009 in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Also in 2012-13, later in the Great Recession, the K-12 increase was only 1.0%.
Now the supermajority is telling our K-12 students that 2017-18 gets 1.1% again, no better than the Great Recession.
Yet at the same time our public school students are being told that times are bleak, other parts of the budget contradict this pessimism:
The surplus will again exceed $2 billion.
The House budget added $7 million for more private school scholarships. Tax credits for private school tuition scholarships were lifted to $25 million for the two year budget, up from $18 million during the current biennium.
Virtual charter schools were treated generously, getting 100% of the state per pupil amount, instead of the 90% that they have been getting.
The House has let down our K-12 students, increasing total funding only 1.1% in the first year and 1.7% in the second year, figures adding $273 million in new money for K-12 in the two year budget. This is less than what Governor Holcomb recommended ($280 million) and far less than what the 2015 budget added ($474 million).
After a three day break, the General Assembly will return Monday for the second half of the session when the Senate will consider the budget. Public school advocates should contact Senators to make two points:
On the floor of the House in the budget debate, both Representatives Greg Porter and Vernon Smith pointed out that under the budget proposal, 201 of the 292 public school corporations will either lose money in 2017-18 or will receive less than 1%.
Chair of Ways and Means Representative Tim Brown responded by saying that his job is not to "protect school corporations but to protect school children." He said he is "agnostic" about corporations but he said the per-child funding goes up in this budget.
I took that as an invitation to look at the per-child funding in the House budget and discovered that it only goes up 0.6% in the first year and 1.4% in the second year, less than the increases for total funding cited above (1.1% and 1.7%).
These are meager increases for our students at a time when we are not in a recession. Despite all that has been said, neither our K-12 students nor our school corporations have been given a priority in the budget.
Our Senators need to hear pointed messages about K-12 funding from parents, educators and community members.
Indiana really doesn't need the School Scholarship program established in 2009 since the much bigger and better known Choice Scholarship (voucher) program was passed in 2011.
School Scholarships are given out to private school students for private school tuition by Scholarship Granting Organizations who get their money by taking donations and then authorizing the donors to take 50% of the donation as a credit off of their Indiana income tax. In 2009-10, the first budget for the program was $2.5 million. Private school advocates have grown the annual budget to $9.5 million in 2016-17. Now the new House budget would boost the budget to $12.5 million in both years.
That is a significant amount! That's $25 million for two years, more than we spend on Alternative Education and the Senator Ford Technology Fund when both are added together!
If the Senate would freeze the budget for School Scholarships at $9.5 million, the Senators would have another $6 million with which to boost the K-12 tuition support for all students. If the Senate would start to roll back this privatization program, it would have even more to help the bottom line for K-12 support.
In 2015, the Senate froze the School Scholarship budget at $7.5 million, but the House pushed to raise it to the current levels.
Ask your Senator or any Senator to freeze or lower School Scholarships and use the money to restore better funding for all K-12 students.
Only the righteous indignation of parents, educators and community members can get the General Assembly to do better for our K-12 students and to stop the expansion of private school scholarships using public tax dollars.
Tell Senators that in the midst of a growing economy, they must do better than 1.1%.
Thanks for your advocacy for public education!
Vic Smith firstname.lastname@example.org