The Journal Gazette
 
 
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 5:54 pm

Traditional public schools devalued

Ed DeLaney

As a member of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, I remain concerned with what our state budget does to fund education, particularly in support of our traditional public schools, which serve nearly 94 percent of our students.

I asked the Legislative Services Agency to analyze how we have allocated funds to education overall. This report is available online at indianahousedemocrats.org/teacher-shortage, so everyone is free to analyze this data on their own. 

The General Assembly now controls the funding of four distinct forms of publicly funded schools: traditional schools (school corporations), charter schools, virtual charter schools and schools accepting vouchers.

I requested that LSA track the funding of these four pathways over the period from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2015, a time frame that largely overlaps the growth phase of charters, the start of vouchers, the period of the Great Recession, and the end of using property taxes to fund teaching.

What do we learn from this report?

• From FY 2009 through FY 2015, state-directed funding for traditional schools fell by a total of more than $3 billion and has yet to return to FY 2009 levels. Some of this shortfall was made up by the limited federal stimulus program.

• During the same period, the cumulative support for charter schools rose by more than $539 million. Virtual charter funding rose from nothing to over $50 million a year, the total funding for the period reaching more than $133 million. Voucher support went from nothing to over $113 million a year with a cumulative increase of some $248 million. Thus, the three new recipients of public funds gained $920 million in support over the period.

• All of this activity has caused a small shift in attendance for the period from FY 2009 to FY 2015. Traditional school attendance fell from 987,000 to 952,000 over the period. The charters had a growth in attendance from 16,500 to some 25,000. Virtual charters went from zero to 8,400. Vouchers went from supporting no students to supporting some 29,000. Note that the total attendance for all types combined rose modestly from 1,003,000 to 1,015,000.

• Despite the attendance shifts within the four categories of publicly funded education, 93.9 percent of our publicly funded students currently are still in traditional schools. One may ask what message the General Assembly is sending when it cuts funding for 93.9 percent of our students and dramatically raises funding for the remaining 6 percent.

This information shows a dramatic drop in education funding and a shift of emphasis from the 94 percent of our students in traditional schools. I believe that the public and aspiring teachers sense this shift. They have reacted. 

By looking at information from INPRS, the state pension organization, you can learn a great deal about teacher age, teacher pay, rates of retirement, and other information tied to particular districts. Here are a few key data points I learned that affect schools and teachers. 

The demographic assumptions used in our pension system tell us that some 35 percent of new teachers don’t stay in the profession for a second year. This may be connected to the fact that the pay increase from year one to year two has fallen.

INPRS advises that the average years of teaching have fallen steadily from 2007 to 2015, declining from 15.6 years of service to 14.1 years. Over the same period, the number of active teachers in the pension system fell from 75,833 to 68,734. Of this lower number, some 10,400 are expected to retire over the next five years. They will need replacements. 

What are the conclusions that can be drawn from this data?

Our state has cut support for K-12 education. It has diverted money to three new experiments. I believe this has been dispiriting to future teachers and confusing to the public. 

People rely on institutions when choosing a job. What institution can a new teacher look to for support? The General Assembly and its budget? A charter school with an unelected board or a for-profit operator? A school corporation that is subject to the whims of the Legislature on issues of pay, testing, financial support and access to property tax revenue?

I believe the time has come to take two critical steps. First, we must start to rebuild our state’s central educational institution: our public school corporations. Second, we need to put a moratorium on new educational experiments, so we have the time to examine what less money and more chaos have accomplished. 

Rep. Ed ­DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, has served in the Indiana House of Representatives since 2008. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required
Newsletters