Even with an overall budget increase for K-12 schools next year, the state will devote less money to helping some urban districts such as Wayne Township Schools educate its most vulnerable, low-income students.
The B-rated and racially diverse district on Indianapolis’ west side will lose $4 million next year in special state funding — and potentially more federal money, too — through a portion of a complicated formula devoted to helping economically disadvantaged students.
The loss of those special funds will leave Wayne Township’s overall state funding flat next year at about $116 million.
But suburban Carmel Clay Schools, top-ranked academically, will escape such a blow. With just 10 percent of students coming from low-income families, the district will instead see one of the larger increases in state support because of the overall funding boost — up more than 3 percent to more than $95 million.
The state’s $32 billion two-year budget, approved after midnight Saturday, hikes overall K-12 education spending by 1.7 percent to more than $7 billion per year while narrowing a state funding gap that favors poorer districts over wealthier ones. It also nearly doubles Indiana’s investment in pre-kindergarten for low-income students.
The House voted 68-30 to pass the budget, and the Senate approved it 42-8. The proposal now proceeds to Gov. Eric Holcomb for final approval.
In K-12 education, the funding formula raises the base per-pupil funding level for all schools, while spending less on a district’s low-income student population, known as the “complexity index.”
“The reduction in complexity index hits us hard,” said Wayne Township Schools Superintendent Jeff Butts.
About 75 percent of Wayne Township students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to state data.
“When you have an increase in population of students who are coming to you with high needs, it really does present a challenge when you’re trying to compensate for some of those societal issues they’re bringing into school,” Butts said.
Overall, Wayne Township Schools’ state funding will remain flat next year and increase less than 2 percent in 2019, according to the budget.
That will factor into the district’s negotiations with the teachers’ union on the next contract, Butts said. He added that if the district has to make reductions as a result of its funding levels, he will try to avoid reductions in instructional spending.
Other Marion County school districts, including Pike Township, also won’t see the proportionally large increases that suburban districts will receive. Pike Township Schools also will stay essentially at the same funding level next year, with small rise by 2019.
In Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said losses in funding for low-income students are offset by increases in funding for English-language learners and special education.
“We fared well in the sense that we didn’t realize any reductions in funding overall for the district,” he said, “which is always a concern.”
Still, the consideration of “complexity” means that high-needs districts such as IPS and Wayne Township will continue to receive more than $1,000 more per-pupil than wealthier districts such as Carmel and Zionsville.
Consider that Wayne Township’s per-pupil funding remains the same next year at $7,230, while an increase of about 3 percent brings Carmel’s per-pupil funding to $5,982. Both districts serve about 16,000 students.
Suburban districts, often some of the highest-performing in the state, have often pushed to close the funding gap, arguing that lower funding rates leave them struggling to maintain educational offerings.
Carmel and Zionsville schools declined to comment for this story.
Key legislative leaders said they were pleased with the budget proposal’s support for pre-kindergarten, a debate that had consumed the length of the session.
The On My Way Pre-K pilot program would expand to 15 counties and receive $21 million yearly, a $9 million increase from the current two-year budget, to educate 4-year-olds from low-income families. An additional $1 million would go toward an online-based education pilot.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, who pushed for the pre-K expansion, said it would be a “joy” to sign the legislation.
“I’m thrilled our lawmakers are providing thousands of low-income Hoosier families access to high quality early education,” Holcomb said in a statement. “This important legislation gives more children in more counties the chance to start their educational journey on the right foot.”
Still, early education advocates said Indiana needs a greater buy-in for pre-K. Business and civic groups backing pre-K, including the United Way of Central Indiana and Eli Lilly and Co., called the allocation “a down payment on Indiana’s future” but added in a statement, “There is more work to do.”
Other features of the budget include a $95 million increase over two years for the Department of Child Services, which is handling an uptick in child abuse and neglect cases driven in part by Indiana’s opioid epidemic.
The state also more than doubled funding for Adult Protective Services to more than $5 million each year, after an IndyStar investigation revealed that severe underfunding of the agency put thousands of Indiana’s most vulnerable adults at risk of horrific abuse and neglect.
IndyStar reporter Stephanie Wang
Evansville Courier & Press reporter Kaitlin Lange