Chris Lagoni and Terry Spradlin, writing commentary in the Indiana Capital Chronicle have a column entitled “Fallacies of the School District Consolidation Debate in Indiana.” The whole thing is worth reading, but I wanted to underscore how the General Assembly is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it talks about the benefits of school consolidation. On the one hand, we’re told that traditional public schools really should consider consolidation because of economies of scale and so forth. On the other, hand we have the General Assembly subsidizing private and charter schools with tiny enrollments. The authors point out:
Today, there are approximately 105 charter schools in the state with an average student enrollment of 436 students. Conversely, there are only five school corporations in the state with enrollment below five hundred students. Indiana’s approach is to have the state carry more and more varied and individual expenses for education, not to consolidate them.
They also take a dig at the forgiveness of charter school debt which the General Assembly has not done for traditional public schools. When discussing ways to encourage consolidation, the authors state:
[O]ne of the significant reasons these discussions have fallen apart in the past has been the effect the consolidation will have on local tax rates. Consolidation of districts may impose a higher tax rate on some residents of the new district. In addition, closing a building, expanding another, adding miles of bus routes, and/or planning for a future building could also impact tax rates. About 10 years ago, the Indiana General Assembly forgave $92 million dollars in charter school debt for closed schools. A similar approach could be taken to help communities wanting to consolidate. School districts carry debt, and another community may not want to inherit the duty of paying for debt obligations previously incurred. Elimination of debt obligations would help facilitate additional consolidations.