Indiana School Funding: Fair Or Not?

By Brien McElhatten

June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 19, 2010 at 8:08 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - The state's 37-year old school funding formula is being criticized as "unfair" by school officials statewide.

While Fort Wayne Community Schools is the second largest district in the state, it is only 2,000 students short of matching Indianapolis Public Schools, the state's largest district. Yet FWCS receives fewer dollars than Gary, which isn't even in the top five.

In order to understand, we must rewind to 1973. The oil crisis was underway and the rock band KISS was climbing up the charts. In Indiana, then Governor Otis Bowen enacted tax reform which changed the way schools were funded. Those changes are still intact today.

Bowen's formula tied school funding to property tax levies. Districts in areas with higher property taxes received more money regardless of the number of students. Back then, Indianapolis and Gary were growing urban areas with high property taxes. Those areas are no longer growing, but they still have the highest property taxes, which means their schools receive the most money.

"Well, this is an historic problem, but clearly Gary Public Schools and Indianapolis Public School have,or many, many years, been funded at a much higher level than any other school districts in the state, including Fort Wayne," said State Senator David Long.

Indeed, Fort Wayne Community Schools is receiving less money that Indianapolis and even Gary despite have only 2,000 fewer students than Indianapolis, the state's largest district.

FWCS is soon projected to become the state's largest district, but property taxes in the Allen County have been low compared to Indianapolis and Gary, which means FWCS has fewer dollars to help an increasing number of students.

Three school districts are suing the state to change the formula.

Administrators with Hamilton Southeastern, Franklin Township and Middlebury Community say the funding for their districts doesn't match their high student enrollment.

"There's very little we can do given the circumstances of the funding formula as it exists. We have made some changes in the last ten years, some significant ones and it is incrementally making this better," explained Long.

Each district receives money on a per student basis. Now when a student leaves on district for another, their "allotment" travels with them, which should help their "new" district handle the cost. While the money helps, it takes three years for that money to come with the student, so their "old" district isn't thrust into economic shock when students leave.

In addition, funds are made available to districts according to the number of economically disadvantaged students on free or reduced lunch programs. These changes are designed to offset the disparity between districts, but because the differences are so large, it will takes years to level the educational playing field.

"Unfortunately it's not a quick fix and it will take some time, adds Long."

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