INDIANAPOLIS—Thursday evening, the School Funding Subcommittee met for the first time since the last legislative budget session two years ago. The committee is tasked with discussing and modifying Indiana’s school funding formula, which determines the amount of funding allocated to students enrolled in Indiana schools.

Assistant Democratic Leader Eddie Melton (D-Gary) released the following statement on the first meeting of the School Funding Subcommittee:

“I don’t think the significance of this subcommittee can be overstated,” Sen Melton said. “Close to half of the state’s general fund’s budget is dedicated to funding education for over 1 million Hoosier children. I’d like to thank Sen. Bassler for convening the meeting, and his willingness to hear from all the stakeholders involved.”

The subcommittee, which lasted several hours, began with a presentation from the Indiana Urban Schools Association (IUSA) regarding a study they commissioned from Policy Analytics.

During their testimony, the IUSA highlighted the critical need to address the school funding formula’s complexity index to ensure it adequately covers the funding needs of schools with a large percentage of low-income students that are considered “complex”, currently determined by the number of students who receive TANF or SNAP benefits, or are in the foster care system. The most important finding of the study is that funding for the complexity index has been reduced by 40% since 2014. The study also shows that the top 50 percent of schools with high complexity indices are spending 10 percent more than they receive from the state to educate their students.

“It was great seeing stakeholders from all over the state coming to testify in committee, because this is a critical issue that impacts our entire state,” Sen. Melton said. “Right now, what we are faced with is making tough decisions around efforts to redirect more funding away from traditional public schools—where over 90 percent of our students attend school—to charter and voucher schools.

“Yesterday, we heard success stories from several families who have enrolled their students in school choice programs. However, we also heard testimony about our public school corporations’ struggles to educate and address the needs of our most vulnerable populations due to inadequate support. Superintendent Jeff Butt’s from Wayne Township Schools shed light on issues with the complexity index which has impacted the funding directed to students in need:

One of the areas we are concerned about is we have lost about $10 million in complexity funding since 2015 due to the change in formula. When we shift away from free and reduced lunch to SNAP, TANF and foster care, we have 3,793 children in Wayne township who receive their support through Medicaid but not SNAP and TANF, so they aren’t captured.

“There are some very important areas that need to be addressed in the school funding formula. We must ensure that the over 90 percent of students in our traditional public schools receive the resources they need to learn successfully. IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson highlighted this point during her testimony on the significance of equity in our complexity index:

The state funding formula has always recognized the difference between equity and equality. The foundation amount is the equality piece – every student gets the same amount. The complexity funding is the equity piece – every student gets what they need. The guidelines for complexity have changed on who qualifies, and we have seen the state focus more on equality than equity with an increase in the foundation and flat lining the complexity. Can we say we are equitable in expanding voucher eligibility for families of four who make up to $145,000 a year when we know special education students and ELL students’ funding remains stagnant and we know those students need help?

“In short, we have to make some difficult decisions about how we prioritize funding in Indiana. We must address the foundational issues in the school funding formula and ensure the complexity index is equitable. Some of the most impoverished students in the state live in my district, and getting the complexity index adequately addressed is critical for my constituents.”

“Senate Democrats will be working closely with stakeholders to address issues with the complexity index and the funding formula. As the ranking minority member of the Appropriations Committee and the School Funding Subcommittee, this is a top priority for me and my caucus, and I look forward to dedicating the remainder of session to advocating on behalf of all Hoosier families and pushing for equity in the state’s school funding formula. ”