From the Statehouse

Wealthiest schools thrive under new state budget while poor ones mostly get less

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
On the last day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers move ahead with plans to ditch ISTEP.

The effect of the new school funding formula approved by the Indiana legislature tonight can be summed up by the effect on the richest and poorest communities.

Of the 25 school districts with the highest family income, all of them will get more per-student state aid over the next two years.

But what about the 25 with the lowest family income? Just 12 of them get more money in 2016 and 2017 across the board — in overall state aid and per-student aid. The rest get less in one or both areas.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said it’s just not a sustainable model, especially for districts like Indianapolis Public Schools.

“We have 30,000 kids in my school district who are going to be asked to perform at a high level with less money than their surrounding school districts,” Taylor said. “One day we are going to have to come back here and recognize that that’s not going to happen with the lack of investment we have put in our children.”

Poor districts, in many cases, were just glad they weren’t hit harder. They faired worse in earlier draft budgets. But across the state, even poor districts that got more money saw smaller gains compared to their wealthier counterparts.

For example, Indianapolis Public Schools would’ve seen a 6 percent loss in funding in the House’s plan, a 4.2 percent loss in the Senate plan, but just a 2.8 percent loss in the new draft — a cut of about $17 million over two years. The final version of the budget, which next heads to Gov. Mike Pence, was the only scenario that included a funding bump for IPS — a 0.4 percent gain in per-student aid over two years to $7,708 per-student from $7,678.

But the budget enrollment projections struck IPS officials as pessimistic, suggesting the district would lose about 1,000 students during the next two years. IPS enrollment has been mostly stable for the past three years, and there is reason to believe it will remain so or even grow.

The district also recently decided to partner with Charter Schools USA to add grade levels at Emma Donnan Middle School, with a goal of recruiting up to 300 new students to the school that IPS could count. CSUSA operates the middle school independently after the school was taken over by the state for low test scores in 2012.

If IPS is right and enrollment remains steady, district officials estimate it could save $10 million over two years, reducing the lost state aid to just $6.5 million.

Other Indianapolis schools fair better.

All Marion County school districts besides IPS get more money from the state under the budget plan, with Franklin Township and Perry Township leading with 6.7 percent increases in overall funding. Both districts’ boosts can be attributed in part to growing student populations.

Wealthy Central Indiana school districts did especially well. Hamilton Southeastern schools, for example, would jump 12.4 percent in state aid over two years, while Westfield-Washington would jump 11.5 percent. Carmel and Zionsville will see gains of 9.1 percent and 9.6 percent.

A comparison of two of the state’s poorest districts, East Chicago and Gary schools, shows their overall state aid being reduced by 2 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the state shouldn’t underestimate urban schools — that only makes things worse in the future.

“We make this self-fulfilling paradigm that we assume that Indianapolis, Gary, — big city schools — are going to lose students, so we fund them with less money,” Tallian said. “That makes them less able to fund good education, and then more kids really do leave.”

Yet Republican supporters of the budget plan say all schools should be on more equal footing when it comes to state aid. They have argued the poorest districts should get more money than the richest, but that today they get too much extra.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, hailed the budget plan for giving a big boost to schools while meeting other priorities. He cited Pence’s call in January for 2015 to be an “education session” for the legislature.

“Mission accomplished,” he said. “Every child has an opportunity across the state of Indiana.”

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, likened Brown’s comments to President George W. Bush’s much-mocked premature proclamation of “mission accomplished” in the Iraq War.

“I can remember someone said ‘mission accomplished’ a few years ago on an aircraft carrier, and the mission was not accomplished,” Porter said. “From a Democratic perspective the mission is not accomplished.”

Porter said the new school funding formula would be “devastating” to many Indiana schools, especially those that serve the state’s most vulnerable children.

“There will be job losses in regards to this proposed budget,” he said. “We take a big blow. Hundreds of public school teachers will be terminated, and class sizes will be raised, mostly in our poorest schools.”

More dollars for English language learners were put into the funding formula, and special aid for children living in poverty will be calculated by a new method based on the number of students eligible for food stamps, welfare and foster care. The new draft also funds full-day Kindergarten students, who in the past received less aid, the same as all other students.

Although Taylor voted against the budget, which passed the Senate 40-9 and the House 69-30, he acknowledged that the outcome might’ve easily been different.

“They could’ve lost a lot more,” he said.

beyond high school

Tennessee leads nation in FAFSA filings for third straight year

PHOTO: TN.gov
Bill Haslam has been Tennessee's governor since 2011.

Equipping more Tennesseans with the tools to succeed after high school has been a hallmark of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. And the efforts seem to be paying off as the governor heads into his final 18 months in office.

Haslam announced on Thursday that the state has set another new record for the number of high school seniors filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA.

With 73.5 percent completing the form for the upcoming academic year — an increase of 3.2 percent from last year — Tennessee led the nation in FAFSA filings for the third straight year, according to the governor’s office.

The increase isn’t surprising, given that students had a longer period to fill out the form last year. In order to make the process more user-friendly, the FAFSA window opened on Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1.

But the increase remains significant. The FAFSA filing rate is one indicator that more students are pursuing educational opportunities beyond a high school diploma.

Getting students ready for college and career has been a major focus under Haslam, a businessman and former Knoxville mayor who became governor in 2011. He launched his Drive to 55 initiative in 2013 with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.

“The continued surge in FAFSA filing rates shows the Drive to 55 is changing the college-going culture in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a news release. “First-time freshman enrollment in Tennessee has grown 13 percent in the past two years and more students than ever are going to college. As a state, we have invested in making college accessible and open to everyone and students are hearing the message.”

According to calculations from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee led all states by a large margin this year. The closest states or districts were Washington D.C., 64.8 percent; Delaware, 61.6 percent; New Jersey, 61 percent; and Massachusetts, 60.4 percent.

The commission calculated the filing rates using data provided through June 30 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Filing the FAFSA is a requirement to qualify for both state and federal financial aid and is part of the application process for most colleges and universities across the nation.

To get more students to complete the form, state and local FAFSA drives have been organized in recent years to connect Tennessee students with resources, guidance and encouragement.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has championed bipartisan efforts to simplify the FAFSA process. The Tennessee Republican and former governor introduced legislation in 2015 that would reduce the FAFSA paperwork from a hefty 108 questions down to two pertaining to family size and household income.

You can read more information about the FAFSA in Tennessee here.

New Partner

Boys & Girls Clubs coming to two Memphis schools after all

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Principal Tisha Durrah stands at the entrance of Craigmont High, a Memphis school that soon will host one of the city's first school-based, after-school clubs operated by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis.

Principal Tisha Durrah says her faculty can keep students focused and safe during school hours at Craigmont High School. It’s the time after the final bell rings that she’s concerned about.

“They’re just walking the neighborhood basically,” Durrah says of daily after-school loitering around the Raleigh campus, prompting her to send three robocalls to parents last year. “It puts our students at risk when they don’t have something to do after school.”

Those options will expand this fall.

Craigmont is one of two Memphis schools that will welcome after-school programs run by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis following this week’s change of heart by Shelby County’s Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners voted 9-4 to foot the bill for operational costs to open clubs at Craigmont and Dunbar Elementary. The decision was a reversal from last week when the board voted down Shelby County Schools’ request for an extra $1.6 million to open three school-based clubs, including one at Riverview School. Wednesday’s approval was for a one-time grant of $905,000.

Commissioners have agreed all along that putting after-school clubs in Memphis schools is a good idea — to provide more enriching activities for neighborhood children in need. But some argued last week that the district should tap existing money in its savings account instead of asking the county for extra funding. Later, the district’s lawyers said the school system can only use that money legally to pay for direct educational services, not to help fund a nonprofit’s operations.

Heidi Shafer is one of two commissioners to reverse their votes in favor of the investment. She said she wanted to move ahead with a final county budget, but remains concerned about the clubs’ sustainability and the precedent being set.

PHOTO: Boys & Girls Club
The Boys & Girls Club provides after-school programs for children and teens.

“If we give (money) to something that’s para-education, we have less to give to education,” she said. “There’s only a limited amount of dollars to go around.”

The funding will help bring to Memphis the first-ever school-based Boys & Girls clubs opened through Shelby County Schools, the largest district in Tennessee, said Keith Blanchard, the organization’s Memphis CEO.

While the nonprofit has had a local presence since 1962 and is up to seven sites in Memphis, it’s had no local government funding heretofore, which is unusual across its network. Nationally, about 1,600 of the organization’s 4,300 clubs are based in schools.

Blanchard plans to get Dunbar’s club up and running by the beginning of October in the city’s Orange Mound community. Craigmont’s should open by November.

“We hope to maybe do another school soon. … A lot will depend on how this school year goes,” he said. “I certainly hope the county sees the value in this and continues to fund in a significant way.”

At Craigmont, the club will mean after-school tutoring and job training in computer science and interviewing skills. Durrah says the activities will provide extra resources as the district seeks to better equip students for life after high school.

“It looks toward the long term,” Durrah said of the program. “This really fits in with the district’s college- and career-ready goals.”