Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an article discussing efforts in the General Assembly to change the school referendum process. This is the mechanism by which local populations can increase tax support for their schools if they decide the state support for education is inadequate. One of the initiatives, apparently dead for the session, would have required that locals wait until the next general election rolled around to put the question on the ballot. The rationale is that more people vote in these elections, so you get a truer sense of the will of the community. First of all, delaying a year or two to have a vote can impose real hardship if there is an educational need for the money. Second, the extra turnout in a general election is going to contain a lot of voters who don’t know what the hell is going on. This raises a philosophical issue of whether quantity or quality is better for governance: lots of votes, or a higher percentage of votes from people who understand the issue?
There is also a “school safety” referendum where voters can vote specifically for money earmarked for school safety expenditures: metal detectors, etc. However, as I pointed out in the linked blog post, “a system where Hamilton Community School Corp can generate 14x as much per student as Cannelton despite having similar population sizes and 8x as much per pupil as Mishawaka despite having, I suspect, fewer security concerns, is not a great system.” More generally, I’m not a fan of segmenting the permitted uses of money from these referendums. It’s a cumbersome process, so eventually micro-targeting the permitted expenditures is going to get to a point where the money generated is not worth the time, effort, and expense of getting the referendum approved. At some point, you have to trust school officials to spend money where the education needs are the greatest.
A third issue up for consideration (not discussed in the linked FWJG article) is in HB 1641 which would, among other things, require school districts for whom a referendum is approved to give some of that money to charter schools in their district. The money would be distributed according to school population — so if a public school was educating kids who are more expensive to educate while the charter school was cherry-picking less expensive students, the money would nevertheless go to charter schools on an even per-student basis. This looks like just another way of starving the traditional public schools of resources.