K-12 funding to stay intact for 2020-21

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Greater Jasper Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey felt a little optimistic about the upcoming school year following Gov. Eric Holcomb’s press conference Wednesday when he announced that funding for K-12 education will not be one of the budget items cut for fiscal year 2020-21.

That budget includes a $183 million increase for K-12 spending and that funding will stay.

The announcement came as agencies across the state slash budgets by a total of 15% to make up for an expected revenue shortfall of about $3 billion over the next 14 months due to economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lorey said she was “very grateful” to Holcomb, state legislators and other leaders for prioritizing K-12 education and finding ways to ensure schools still receive all the funding allocated to them during the current budget biennium, which runs from 2019 to 2021.

“I’m optimistic about the upcoming school year,” Lorey said. “But I’m also realistic that the deficits will flow our way.”

When the next legislative session begins in January, legislators will be tasked with formulating the budget for the next biennium — which will cover fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23 — and there could be cuts to K-12 funding then. In Wednesday’s press conference, Indiana Office of Management and Budget Director Cris Johnston advised local school officials to use some of the funding allotted to them in 2020-21 to plan several years into the future.

“The funding we are providing is to take care of current needs, but not to overcommit because we don’t know what the economy is going to look like and we don’t know what constraints might be placed on the budget when we put that together next spring,” he said during the press conference.

Johnston’s advice was already on the mind of North Spencer Schools Superintendent Dan Scherry. He compared the current situation to the Great Recession in the late 2000s. As the country began coming out of the recession in 2010, Scherry said, school corporations learned not to snap back to pre-recession spending, as the economy did not recover immediately. It’s a lesson he’ll keep in mind as he plans for his corporation’s future.

“We have grave concerns,” Scherry said. “But we’ve had grave concerns before.”

Funding for K-12 education is among the largest items in Indiana’s state budget and is funded through income and sales taxes, two taxes that have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 closures. Research on the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery shows that it took many years for school budgets to recover, according to coverage by Chalkbeat, a national online education news outlet. A similar situation is possible following the closing of the economy due to COVID-19, and NPR reported that several states, including Michigan and Ohio, have already made cuts to K-12 education.

Indiana spared K-12 education this year, but has made cuts to public university funding.

Although Indiana’s overall budget for K-12 funding hasn’t been cut for the upcoming school year, there is still a chance schools could see less revenue from the state when school resumes. State funding for individual school corporations is determined by enrollment, with each school receiving a certain amount of tuition per student. The system is commonly described as “the money follows the student,” so if parents choose to keep their children at home this fall and enroll in virtual schools or homeschool, school corporations stand to lose revenue. As of now, local school leaders aren’t sure if that will be an issue, as enrollment numbers generally aren’t finalized until later in the summer.

“It’s really too soon to tell,” Lorey said.

Scherry said that his corporation has sent out surveys to parents and community members about plans to reopen schools this fall, and concerns about sending students back to school have come up. But overall, parents have not been against students returning to school.

“We know an enrollment drop is possible, but we aren’t expecting it,” Scherry said.

Part of the challenge as schools put together reopening plans will be ensuring that communities have confidence in their schools’ ability to keep students safe while providing quality education, Lorey said.

In Dubois County, the four school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — formed a task force to create a countywide plan for reopening schools. The task force has been working on a plan since Holcomb and the Indiana Department of Education released reopening guidelines for schools about two weeks ago.

The task force’s next meeting will be Tuesday. Lorey said they hope to have a plan to present to each of the four school boards in the county by mid-July. The plan will also have to be reviewed and approved by the Dubois County Health Department.




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