On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) sent an open letter to Indiana “school leaders” warning that public schools across the state could face funding cuts if they choose an all-virtual mode of instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.

Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) issued the following statement in response:

“Senator Bray’s letter is a threat to the funding of public schools –  unless they open for in-person instruction, they will suffer an economic penalty. The governor and legislative leadership promised these schools that local school administrators could exercise their own discretion as to the safety of students, and this letter breaks that promise. Many schools’ resources are already stretched thin and this policy has the potential to cripple many schools when we should be helping them navigate through this pandemic.

“This is an especially unfair burden to place on local school officials in light of the lack of clear, uniform standards on reopening schools from either state or federal officials. Until now, local districts have been left to make their own determinations as to what is best for the health and safety of students and staff. Now, after these difficult choices have already been made, they are essentially being told, ‘unless you offer an option for in-person instruction, no matter how dangerous you might think it is, or how unprepared you may be, you will suffer financially.’

“The economic toll of this pandemic is already expected to cause a decrease in revenues for all school districts. Whether instruction is in-person, virtual or a hybrid, we know the continuing expenses of staff, buildings, and other fixed costs will remain the same or increase due to the cost of operating in the midst of a pandemic.

“Why the sudden change of heart this soon before the school year is set to resume? Previously, the statements coming from the governor and the majority leaders had a tone of reassurance that districts would NOT be harmed by the effects of the pandemic upon average daily membership (ADM). Why throw schools a curve ball this late in the game?

“We just got notice of a salary increase for members of the General Assembly. What are the optics of raising salaries for legislators while threatening to reduce education funding? There is no doubt that state revenues, like local revenues, will drop due to the pandemic, but surely there are better ways to be fiscally responsible than immediately looking for ways to cut education.  Over the past decades, Indiana has cut corporate taxes by billions of dollars. Perhaps it’s time to review such cuts.

“Indiana school districts have made the good faith determination that due to the extraordinary health crisis the state faces, that in-person instruction is not safe. Instead of threatening financial retribution against these school districts, the state should be giving concrete guidance on how to open safely, increasing funding for schools so that they can achieve the goal of opening safely and most importantly dealing with the virus that is causing it to be unsafe for schools to open to begin with.

“I would ask the Pro Tempore to rescind this surprise threat and abide by the initial determination that schools would not be harmed financially for needing to address this nationwide pandemic, which seems to increasingly threaten the health of Hoosiers.”