Indiana schools could face $9.3 million in cuts unless lawmakers act

Indiana schools could face $9.3 million in cuts unless lawmakers provide more money.

(IndyStar.com) - Indiana schools could face $9.3 million in cuts unless lawmakers provide more money.

The potential reductions would translate to about $315,000 for Indianapolis Public Schools and more than $100,000 for many suburban districts, according to a school funding simulation circulating among legislative leaders and obtained by IndyStar.

At issue is higher-than-anticipated public school enrollment. The state's annual student count in September found about 6,000 more public school students than lawmakers had budgeted for when they passed the two-year state budget last year.

As a result, lawmakers will have to decide whether to appropriate additional school funding when they convene in January for the 2018 legislative session. That could present some challenges since lawmakers don't typically deal with budget issues in even-numbered years. 

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the General Assembly will not have a "small budget session" this year but could address limited fiscal issues. 

"This will be one of the few issues we might address," he said. 

His counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tempore David Long, said Senate Republicans have "every intention" of trying to fix the problem.

“We’re going to take a long look at the count, then we’re going to discuss potentially moving some money in — even though it’s a non-budget year — to address that shortfall,” the Fort Wayne Republican said. 

The alternative would be cuts to individual school districts.

Shortly after IndyStar's inquiries about the potential cuts, the Indiana Department of Education released a memo it plans to send to school districts Friday warning that they could face cuts, though the department is still collecting data to determine the final amounts.

"The Department will complete its review as data collections continue and will make a preliminary determination soon, but recipients should be prepared for the potentiality that the awards may be reduced," the memo says. "This reduction will impact all recipients including school corporations, charter schools, choice scholarship recipients and Mitch Daniels Scholarship recipients."

The memo says the department "will continue to work with the General Assembly exploring options while updating adjustments as our data collections continue."

The department it still completing counts of special education students and several other categories. Those should be finished by January, said Adam Baker, department spokesman. 

"While it's a small amount, maybe, from our perspective, it's a huge amount at the local level," Baker said. "I would say that any dollar that's affected is something that would be a concern."

Fiscal leaders for the Republican-controlled House and Senate said Tuesday it was too soon to say what, if anything, they might do to address the shortfall. 

"We're looking at what our options are," said Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, "but let's keep in mind it's $1.50 out of every $10,000 the school gets."

The potential cuts come as public schools are facing increasing financial pressures amid legislative school funding overhauls in recent years. Last year, 40 percent of school districts operated at a deficit, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said some districts — especially districts in rural areas — are already financially challenged.

"Any cut is a cut, at this point, that I don't think they can withstand," she said. "The legislature needs to fund the commitment made to public schools."

The latest shortfall, outlined in an LSA report produced Monday for legislative leaders, is already resulting in calls for lawmakers to find additional funding. During the last legislative session, lawmakers appropriated about $7 billion for K-12 education for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The $9.3 million hole comes after several years of education funding surpluses. Last year, the Indiana Department of Education reverted $55.8 million in unused funds to the state general fund. The year before, $45.1 million was reverted, according to state fiscal records.

Pointing to the state's $2 billion in reserves, Rep. Greg Porter, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers "should be able to come in and make those schools whole."

He said Republicans like to talk about school choice and competition, but now that some urban public schools are seeing an increase in enrollment for the first time in years, lawmakers need to be consistent in their "money-follows-the-student" approach.

"They talk about competition," he said. "The competition is there, but you’ve got to get paid fairly."

The report Monday shows the following potential reductions for individual Central Indiana school districts:

Indianapolis Public Schools: $315,782

Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township: $60,621

Franklin Township Community School Corporation: $79,142

Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township: $144,052

Metropolitan School District of Perry Township: $147,708

Metropolitan School District of Pike Township: $100,107

Metropolitan School District of Warren Township: $115,632

Metropolitan School District of Washington Township: $102,030

Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township: $155,789

Beech Grove City Schools: $30,783

School Town of Speedway: $16,701

Carmel Clay Schools: $126,813

Hamilton Southeastern Schools: $167,631

Westfield-Washington Schools: $63,738

Noblesville Schools: $84,950

Zionsville Community Schools: $53,003

Brownsburg Community School Corporation: $70,413

Avon Community School Corporation: $77,702

Plainfield Community School Corporation: $44,920

Center Grove Community School Corporation: $67,733

Greenwood Community School Corporation: $35,086

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at (317) 444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

Call IndyStar reporter Tony Cook at (317) 444-6081. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

IndyStar.com


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