The Journal Gazette
Sunday, March 08, 2020 1:00 am

Another bad bill targets public schools

Terry Spradlin

Nearing the conclusion of the budget session of the state legislature on April 22, 2019, I had the pleasure of standing with Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma, Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray, and other legislative and K-12 association leaders to announce a successful state budget funding public schools.

The two-year funding increases announced that day totaled $763 million for schools.

Unlike last session, the 2020 session may be ending with divisiveness and disappointment for K-12 public school champions and supporters, and to the detriment of the more than 1 million Hoosier students in our public schools.

In the past two weeks, the Indiana Senate added two controversial amendments to House Bill 1065, a various taxation matters proposal. This legislation became more controversial in the past few days because of the second reading amendment (No. 6) approved on Monday by the Senate. The policy provisions in this amendment hadn't been discussed all session, particularly in a committee hearing allowing for public input.

Frankly, HB 1065 had not been a high-priority bill to my organization, the Indiana School Boards Association, and other K-12 public education associations until these last-minute maneuvers. The session ends this week. These changes are opposed by our organizations because they will diminish already-decreasing property tax levy dollars available to schools and may force higher tax increases than necessary. How so?

First, HB 1065 will modify Public Law 235-2019 by expanding the residential housing development program (a form of a tax increment financing district) beyond single-family homes to include condominiums and townhomes. The bill also includes these types of housing in an economic development target area defined by law that can cover up to 15% of a town or municipality. Both provisions will greatly expand the incremental assessed valuation captured by TIFs and erode the valuation available to school corporations for levy dollars.

If that were not bad enough, the second-reading amendment approved by a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch on Monday includes more controversial public policy that enables the diversion of referendum funds to charter schools serving nearly 35,000 students and away from school corporations serving more than 1 million students. This provision will diminish our school corporations' ability to serve the unique needs of students, pay our teachers and upgrade school facilities to provide high-quality educational opportunities to the students in our K-12 traditional public school system.

It is school corporation leaders who work along with community advocates to do all the heavy lifting to pass referendums, and it is not equitable to set the stage to force school corporations to share these dollars with charter schools.

Charter schools do not comply with the same fiscal transparency, reporting and auditing procedures as school corporations. The public and school corporations should be empowered in this bill to request and make public the charter school financial records before any tax dollars are redistributed between the two types of schools.

Public schools must demonstrate to taxpayers the need for additional tax dollars; so should charter schools.

The immediate implication of this legislation is that school corporations will be forced to increase the proposed referendum tax rate to generate a sufficient levy to pay for their programs, services or improvements, then provide additional money to charter schools. This will increase taxes more than planned or desired by school corporations.

Sadly, charter school advocates will be emboldened by this legislation to threaten to campaign against proposed referendums, which will only deteriorate, not enhance, collaboration between educational entities in serving the needs of children.

For these reasons, I contend that this is bad public policy that should not become law. If you agree, please let your state legislators know your concerns, too, by contacting them now.

Terry Spradlin is executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

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