Two of the most important components of determining how much funding a school corporation gets from the state are the base / foundation amount and the complexity index amount. The base amount is what all schools get on a per pupil basis. The complexity index is tied to poverty in the district out of recognition of the additional challenges they face. An earlier article in the Indy Star describes it this way:
Under the state’s current school funding formula, the complexity index calculates additional dollars based on a district’s proportion of low-income students who qualify for textbook assistance — granting more for districts where that’s the vast majority.
At IPS, where more than four out of every five students come from low-income families, the complexity index alone adds $2,197.17 in state dollars per student.
At Zionsville, where about 5 percent of students receive free or reduced meals, it amounts to just $123.39 more per student.
That’s a difference of more than $2,000 per student, all because of families’ income levels.
Wealthier districts are complaining that the base funding is too low – that they don’t receive enough to keep the doors open without passing referenda increasing taxes in their areas. (West Lafayette Schools had a successful referendum to increase property taxes in my area several years ago.) The budget as currently drafted has an increase in the base funding but decreases the complexity index funding — the upshot being that the wealthier schools get more relative to 2014 funding and the poorer schools get less. (However, the poorer schools still get more per student in absolute terms.) The schools in poorer districts will observe that they are struggling even at current levels – reducing their funding levels is not likely to improve their situations. From the first news story linked, here are the “winners” and “losers.”
The Winners: The top 10 school corporations that will received funding boosts in 2016 and 2017.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools: $24.3 million
Carmel Clay Schools: $15.1 million
Metropolitan School District of Perry Township: $12.5 million
Tippecanoe School Corporation: $10.7 million
Noblesville Schools: $10.5 million
Indiana Connections Academy Virtual Pilot: $9.9 million
Avon Community School Corporation: $9.7 million
Westfield-Washington Schools: $8.9 million
Brownsburg Community School Corp: $8.8 million
Metropolitan School District of Pike Township: $8.7 million
The Losers: The bottom 10 school corporations that will lose state funding in 2016 and 2017.
Indianapolis Public Schools: $32.4 million loss
Gary Community School Corp: $9.2 million loss
School City of East Chicago: $4.6 million loss
Muncie Community Schools: $4.6 million loss
School City of Hammond: $4.2 million loss
Jennings County Schools: $3 million loss
South Bend Community School Corp: $2.9 million loss
Marion Community Schools: $2.5 million loss
Thea Bowman Leadership Academy: $1.9 million loss
Michigan City Area Schools: $1.7 million loss
School funding is a huge chunk of the state’s annual budget – something like 50%. So this really isn’t an easy decision for state lawmakers. Even small changes on a per-student basis have a huge impact on the budget. What makes it more complicated is that, as the complexity funding suggests, educational issues get muddled with broader social welfare issues. The social welfare issues get buried here because they aren’t addressed elsewhere. Our tendency is to view the economy as a morality play where people are poor due to personal failings. Kids are “innocent,” so we don’t tend to have as many mental blocks against dealing with their problems.
Schools like IPS need extra funding not strictly as an educational matter but because the social safety net is inadequate in other parts of these kids’ lives. It’s politically easier to address some of these issues under the umbrella of “education,” but it can make things complicated because we’re only addressing those secondary issues indirectly.
So, because the money isn’t addressing these broader social welfare issues directly, a place like Hamilton Southeastern can complain, “hey – we need to educate our kids too. Look how much less per student we’re getting. It’s not fair.” And such arguments will be at least somewhat convincing because the debate isn’t focused on, say, factors having to do with a chaotic home life resulting from other non-educational social issues.