The planned lawsuit by the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) challenging the legality of the level of school funding figures prominently in most papers today. Lesley Stedman Weidenbener has a good article for the Louisville Courier Journal.
The article reports that, as a state, Indiana is about average in its level of school funding, ranking 22nd. However, the problem might be at a district by district level. ISTA’s spokesperson said that the General Assembly hasn’t funded schools at a level sufficient to meet the accountability measures it has set. Failure to meet those measures will result in sanctions for underperforming schools. ISTA’s spokesperson also predicts that inadequate funding will lead to failure to meet the standards which will lead to another round of hand wringing about our broken school system which will lead to renewed voucher proposals which is something ISTA really does not want.
The Governor’s office wouldn’t comment, saying “they hadn’t seen the lawsuit.” Senator Kenley, on the other hand, was more willing to discuss the issue. (A minor point, but yet one more indicator of why Indiana would have been better off had Sen. Kenley beaten out Gov. Daniels for the Republican nomination in ’04.)
Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chairman Luke Kenley,
R-Noblesville, said he was aware the teachers association had been
discussing a lawsuit. But he said he was surprised that it would focus, at least in part, on funding for students in need.
The school funding formula he helped write for the current state budget includes a redesigned complexity index, a method of distributing additional dollars to schools with students who are poor, live in single-parent households and have limited ability to speak English. The index also considers the number of young adults living in the district who did not earn a high school diploma.
“The formula is designed to look at the child and measure whether there’s a need there and then drive the dollars to those children,” Kenley said. “Indiana has been much more sensitive than other states to funding children in need.”
ISTA’s spokesperson, Dan Clark, said that the weight the formula gives to any of the factors is arbitrary and, consequently, the amount of money the formula provides to schools with more children in need is arbitrary. Sen. Kenley said that the index factors were based on a study done by IU to advise the General Assembly, but also says he’s interested to see the suit and suggests that it may be a source of good information for the legislature as they develop the next two-year state budget.
I might be wrong, but this does not look like the sort of issue a court is well suited to address. School funding within broadly defined parameters strikes me as a legislative matter. The suit might be useful in producing information that can educate the General Assembly, but this seems like a very inefficient way of conducting a study.