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School funding increases and teacher bonuses back in Senate budget

Thursday, a Senate committee finalized what is likely the Senate’s version of the state budget. It contains the school funding formula and other funding language important to schools and educators. While a school funding estimate using the Senate’s proposed model is not yet available, ISTA appreciates the increased overall statewide funding levels and other measures in the bill, with the exception of how schools will receive Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. 

Funding and teacher stipends
The Senate formula would provide $358 million to K – 12 education over the next two years. This would be an increase of $85 million more than the House proposed budget. Although ISTA would rather see an increase of 2.3 percent, which would at least match last year's increase, the Senate’s budget is nearing 2 percent with the next revenue forecast expected April 12.

Complexity funding, which targets schools with high needs students, gets an increase of $40 million over the House proposal.

Encouragingly, the Senate budget would restore teacher performance grants that were removed in the House budget. The program would be called Teacher Appreciation Grants with a funding level of $80 million.

Recognizing how unfairly performance grants were distributed this year, local school districts would mostly determine how teachers will receive the grants. The Senate budget would provide a $39 per student cash stipend. The awards would only have to be based on a teacher’s most recent effectiveness rating. Based on ISTA’s reading of the bill, it appears delayed test scores wouldn’t hold up funding as it has in the past.

The differential in stipends between highly effective and effective teachers would be required to be at least 25 percent, with the stipends distributed to teachers before Jan. 31. Unfortunately, the stipend would still not subject to collective bargaining, but remains discussible.

The Senate budget would also fund costs associated with extending the age limit for students with developmental delays to include ages 5 to 8.

Both House and Senate budgets would increase funding for English Language Learners (ELL), but the Senate version concentrates its increases on districts with higher concentrations of ELL students.

The Senate’s pre-K expansion would be funded at $16 million. The proposal would expands the state’s pre-K pilot to all 92 counties with $1 million set aside for virtual pre-K programs.

This budget draft dramatically changes the CTE funding formula with no formula forthcoming. While the state and federal K – 12 funding would remain with the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) for now, the functional administration of the program would transition under this proposal. Many districts would be forced to overhaul their programs dramatically and the Department of Workforce Development would take over program approvals in 2018.

Charter schools and vouchers
The Senate budget would require some additional accountability for virtual charter schools and vouchers, which ISTA supports.

Under the Senate plan, virtual charter schools would continue receiving 90 percent of funding, rather than 100 percent as proposed by the House. The schools would also be required to start reporting class sizes, student-teacher ratios, number of in-person teacher meetings and any other information determined by IDOE.

Spending on vouchers would be funded separately from public schools giving taxpayers a clearer idea of how much the state is spending on private school vouchers. The Senate proposal would call for $156.5 million in the first year and $167 million in the second year. It’s important to note that those annual amounts equal to over 2 percent in new money in the K – 12 public school funding formula. This transparency offers a view of the real price tag of private school subsidies.

ISTA believes the Senate’s budget bill moves in the right direction to fund schools more fairly. ISTA will continue to follow the budget bill as its makes its way through the legislature. Sign-up for ISTA action alerts to urge legislators to pass a budget that ensures all public school kids have a fair chance to succeed.