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In the eye of the beholder

The lawsuit filed by three suburban Indiana school district’s over the state’s school funding formula was dropped this week. School officials said they believed the legislature did the right thing with changes to the formula.

Of course, that depends on your perspective. The new formula’s money-follows-the-child philosophy that served suburban, charter, private and parochial schools well isn’t nearly so kind to the children from poor families who attend mostly urban and rural schools.

Hamilton Southeastern, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, will see an additional 4.1 percent in state support next year; 4.8 percent the following. About 11 percent of its students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. The district’s residents also supported a general fund referendum to locally contribute an additional $5.8 million for their schools this year and $6 million the next.

Contrast that with Hamilton Community Schools, where 36 percent of the students qualify for a free or discounted lunch. The small, rural district is set for a 12.3 percent reduction in state support next year and an 8.7 percent reduction the following year. Referendum support is unlikely in the Steuben County district.

In addition to adopting a formula that does the right thing for suburban schools, lawmakers took care to make sure urban and rural districts won’t follow the lead of the suburban districts and file a lawsuit over the new funding formula. They passed a law that prohibits school districts from using tax dollars to sue the state. So unlike the suburban districts, the urban and rural districts would have to raise the legal costs on their own.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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