The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 1:33 pm

FWCS loses millions in GOP plan

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The financial hit to Fort Wayne Community Schools under the House Republican school funding plan is millions more than expected.

That’s because old free-lunch data were used to calculate the complexity index that schools use to glean extra funding for at-risk students.

“The original run overstated the amount we would receive because our free-lunch indicator was higher last year than this year,” said Kathy Friend, chief financial officer for FWCS. “The result is $3.2 million less in the first year and about $1 million less in the second year.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown said the most recent information available when he ran simulations was from 2014.

But now 2015 data are available, and it shows a large reduction in cash for Fort Wayne Community and Indianapolis Public Schools.

“Fundamentally, what we were trying to do was substantially raise the foundation for all schools and that is still one of our goals,” he said.

Brown said he will review the new numbers to see how they affect students in similar situations. He noted these school runs are estimates and other new data – such as enrollment figures – will come later.

The budget is now in the Senate, where changes are expected.

Friend said the reason the district’s free-lunch rate is lower is because of the district’s first-year participation in the Community Eligibility Provision. All FWCS students in elementary and middle get free lunch without an application.

But applications for free or reduced-price lunches are required to determine free textbooks.

“We are finding that families are slower to do those applications this year since lunch is being provided, so the urgency isn’t there,” Friend said. “By the end of the year, we may be on par with the end of last year. It remains to be seen.”

Meanwhile, even without that complication, the budget the House passed will result in cuts for more than 100 districts around the state, including Fort Wayne Community.

Gov. Mike Pence said Thursday he didn’t realize in 2013 when he initially increased education funding that the complicated school funding formula meant some communities would see no new money.

“So we came into this process saying we want all the ships to rise in Indiana. We want to see funding increases for all our schools,” he said.

But Pence wouldn’t go so far as to support a minimum guarantee to districts – a method used in the past but abandoned by Republicans.

The GOP points out that districts losing money are either losing students or who already receive proportionately more funding per student than other districts.

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