Increase foundation level funding for public schools

The Importance of Adequate Funding for Public Education

Goal #1 for the State Leaders: Adequately increase foundation level funding for ALL public schools.

Schools pay teachers from a “general fund”.  With property tax reforms implemented in the late 2000’s, Indiana’s leaders took the burden for paying public school general education expenses from local property tax dollars and placed it with State revenues.  At the same time, school funding began to be based primarily on student enrollment.  Today, the “regular funding” that a public school receives comes from a per-pupil foundation amount coupled with complexity funding that is based on a district’s poverty.  In past State budgets, things like full-day kindergarten and transition funding were included.  These programs now have been eliminated or folded into the foundation funding.

Fact: Funding for general expenses comes from the State of Indiana and is part of a biennial budget approved in odd years by the State legislature.  The next biennial budget is set to be approved in the spring of 2017 for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.  For our elected leaders, this will be the most important vote they cast when they convene in January.  Also, any goal of adequately funding public education by increasing the level of foundation funding only can be accomplished through this process.

Therefore, NOW is the time to talk to locally elected leaders or political candidates to see where they stand on increasing foundation level funding for PUBLIC schools. 

Why is this important?  Public schools have been grossly underfunded for the past eight years starting with the 2009 biennial budget for the 2010 fiscal year and continuing to present day.  More importantly, this funding matters because teaching is an honorable profession, and, I believe teachers should be fairly compensated for the important work that they are doing.   Over the past eight years, Indiana has fallen further and further from meeting this goal.  Example: According to a new research report from The Economic Policy Institute, teachers earned 17% less than other college graduates in 2015.  This is the largest gap in the last 35 years.  This gap has grown only larger since 2010. 

Indiana school districts continue to report a shortage of teachers, and Indiana universities continue to report declining enrollment of undergraduates in their teacher preparation programs.  According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2004 to 2014, a 7% decrease in the number of education degrees was awarded.  In Indiana, the decline has been 33% from 2009 to 2014.  Additionally, from 2012-2014, according to the Associated Press, the number of undergraduate college students enrolling in the Ball State Teacher College dropped by 15%.

In an article by The Star Press, Ball State Teacher College Dean John Jacobson discussed low teacher salaries as a potential cause of his department’s enrollment, saying: “We cannot ignore the fact that a beginning teacher’s salary of about $35,000 makes it almost impossible to support a family without taking on additional employment.”  Dean Jacobson’s colleague Michael Hicks, Professor of Economics at Ball State University, wrote in The Star Press, “I do believe teacher salaries are on the low side and could use a legislative boost.”

Note that the solution to this problem rests with “a legislative boost”, since the funding source comes from the Indiana legislature.  While some legislators are quick to criticize how funds are spent at the local level; the more significant fact remains, overall funding is inadequate and in desperate need of an increase.  Legislative criticisms of local funding decisions that often make up small parts of the overall general fund do not help address the problem:  Public school funding is not adequate, and is not even keeping up with inflation!

Consider the funding levels from 2010 to 2016: During this time, the State has increased funding for education by $270 million from approximately $6.55 billion to $6.82 billion.  This $270 million has resulted in an average increase in foundation-level funding for public schools of just over 4% (or .687% per year)...which is less than 1% a year.  At the same time, according to the Historical Inflation Rate Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation has increased an average of 1.68% annually over the same period of time.  Clearly, legislative priorities are not with public education when funding is not even keeping up with inflation.

One common response from elected leaders when asking for funding increases goes like this… “I support public education and would like to give more money, but the money isn’t there.”  Remember that State leaders chose to take on the fiscal responsibility of funding local schools when they changed the funding source from local property taxes. 

Consider a 12-year-old boy that takes his weekly allowance on a Saturday to the local arcade and spends all his money playing video games.  Then, on Sunday, he justifies to his Sunday School teacher that he would like to give some money to the church; he supports the church, but he simply doesn’t have any more money.  Our State leaders have made decisions in recent years impacting the amount of money received into the State coffers. They also make decisions on how that money is spent.  Justifying why spending on public education cannot be increased due to other factors within their control is unacceptable. 

State leaders also like to cite that approximately half of their budget goes to education.  However, it is irresponsible to accept this statement as proof that they support public education.  Other states fund education through local dollars; so in cases such as Indiana where the State pays for more education-related expenses, it only makes sense that those states would utilize a higher percentage of State revenue for purposes of education. 

Public education needs adequate funding, and this requires increases in funding in the State’s biennial budget that meets or exceeds inflation.  To restore funding to 2009 funding levels, when adjusted for inflation, an additional 6% would be needed to be added to the biennial budget.  Assuming that the modest increase for 2017 is on par with the inflationary rate for that year, the new biennial budget will need to increase by an overall rate of 9% within the next two years (roughly estimated at 1.5% each of two years for inflation plus 6% to restore funding to pre-2010 levels when adjusted for inflation).

Questions to ask your locally-elected legislators:

  • Will you commit your votes to restore      investments in public education to pre-2010 levels when adjusted for inflation?
  • If so, do you support adequately funding public      education by increasing the funding for public schools by 9% within the next      two years which would be required to accomplish this goal?
  • Will you promise to NOT support funding increases      to private education or other causes until this goal is accomplished?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”  It’s time that State leaders in Indiana start considering public education as an investment rather than an expense.

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