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The poor get poorer

The Journal Gazette's Dan Stockman studied new census figures to determine the state's poorest census tract and its wealthiest. Then he looked at the public schools there.

The story is a stark demonstration of the effects of poverty on education. The two school districts are similarly sized, but that's about all they have in common. Just 8.5 percent of the Carmel Clay students qualified for a free- or reduced-price lunch in 2010; 78.3 percent of the Hammond students received a free- or reduced-price lunch.

The biggest problem with school funding in Indiana is that there is simply not enough money behind the formula, but lawmakers exacerbated the problem tremendously this year. The K-12 allocation now is subject to the "money follows the child" philosophy, which steers money from schools serving poor children to wealthier schools with growing enrollment. To add insult to injury, the legislature set the groundwork for the nation's largest voucher program and gave tax incentives for home-schooling.

Assigning a dollar amount to each child's head would work well if kids were widgets, but they obviously are not. To ignore the connection between poverty and achievement is foolish. There is extensive research on the subject, but Indiana legislators showed only disdain for data and research in the past session.

The sad news for the children in Hammond is that life is about to get even worse. The state is taking dollars from their schools and moving them to schools serving children from wealthier families. Short-term, politicians can feel good about their fair and balanced approach. Long-term, the state neglects thousands of children and harms its own economic well-being by reducing the tools that could help the students succeed.

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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