INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate President threw a curveball at schools Thursday – sending a letter that said to expect a 15% cut in funding if they provide only virtual instruction.
This is opposite what Gov. Eric Holcomb and the House and Senate budget leaders said in June – when promising schools would remain unscathed.
At issue is a law designed for full-time, permanent virtual schools setting funding per pupil at 85% of brick-and-mortar schools. That statute was not written with a pandemic in mind.
As of Thursday, 31 schools around the state are starting the year with remote learning only.
In June Holcomb – with House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown and Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler – said a one-year waiver from the law would be given when leaders come back in January.
But a letter from Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray Thursday sent shockwaves to schools.
“State leaders have said we favor fully funding students whose families choose virtual instruction this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I believe there is a strong appetite for making that change,” he said. “However, there is no guarantee such an exception will be made for schools that don't give families the option of in-person instruction in a school building. Therefore, schools that don't offer in-person instruction should plan on operating under the current funding policy.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said she was extremely disappointed in Bray's letter – which came days after many schools have started.
“The fluidity created by this pandemic has already added undue burden to districts who are focused on establishing and maintaining safe learning environments for students and staff,” she said. “A potential 15 percent cut per pupil is not sustainable at a time districts are working hard to create multiple learning platforms. Penalizing districts who cannot offer onsite instruction leads to dangerous decision making.”
She urged Holcomb to honor his promise and call a special session to address the issue.
Holcomb's office has not responded to requests for comment.