Urban students to pay the price

Faced with a huge state deficit, Indiana's House Republicans rejected Gov. Mitch Daniels' call for a one-year temporary 1 percent tax increase on Hoosiers earning $100,000 or more, deciding, instead, to cut school funding and change the funding formula for public schools. Should the plan pass, the biggest losers will be students in already struggling urban school districts. The 10 districts with the highest minority population will lose nearly $26 million in state funding, while the 10 wealthiest districts will see an increase of $21.5 million.

The $23 billion budget, well on its way to the governor's desk, calls for an overall decrease in the funding of the state's public schools, from an average of $6,006 per student to $5,987. But that decrease will not be felt equally.

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee took advantage of their majority status to rewrite the school funding formula in Indiana, establishing a formula that allows state dollars to move to districts with increased enrollment.

Just days before the new budget passed the committee, the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy released its report "Demystifying School Funding in Indiana," warning that proposed changes in the state funding formula would have significant advantages for some students and significant disadvantages for others.

According to the IU study, the proposed changes "will most likely direct more revenues to growing school corporations, many of which are located in suburban areas, and take money away from corporations with steady and falling enrollments, which tend to be urban."

And that is exactly what will occur if the Republican budget prevails. Funding for 115 of the state's 293 school districts will decrease in 2006 and 2007, while 120 districts will see funding increase as a result of the budget eliminating guaranteed yearly funding increases designed to keep pace with inflation and rising cost of living expenses.

Under the new plan, urban school corporations, which educate nearly 90 percent of Indiana's black students, 63 percent of Indiana's Hispanic students, 40 percent of the state's special education students and 57 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches, will be hit hardest.

According to the Indiana Urban School Association, the 10 districts with the highest minority populations will lose nearly $26 million in state funding, while the 10 wealthiest districts will see an increase of $21.5 million.

"This House Republican budget is a disaster, plain and simple," says Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis. "Its supporters proclaim that it provides additional funding for schools, but only those schools in wealthier areas of the state. This budget does nothing to help school corporations in minority areas, apart from forcing tax increases on local property owners."

Indiana Public Schools, the state's largest district with nearly 39,000 students, will lose nearly 4 percent of its funding over the next two years, totaling more than $11 million, and Gary community schools will see a decrease of nearly 7 percent next year, a reduction of nearly $9 million.

The largest increase in school funding will go to areas north of Indianapolis. Hamilton Southeastern will receive an increase of 12.4 percent, Westfield Washington an increase of 7.8 percent, Noblesville an increase of 4 percent and Hamilton Heights an increase of 3.4 percent over the next two years.

House Democrats and members of the Black Legislative Caucus have already gone on record against the changes in school funding formulas and budgets.

The new biennial state budget for 2006-2007, House Bill 1001, having passed committee and received a supportive second reading, needs only one more reading and a vote before moving on to the Senate.