The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 20, 2019 1:00 am


Lawmakers' cheap stunt costly blow to schools

Rep. Dale DeVon is national director of the Home Builders Association and a board member at The Crossing, a faith-based alternative high school serving at-risk students. Surely the Granger Republican and custom homebuilder understands that costs in both construction and education involve countless variables. One-size-fits-all guidelines for schools are as worthless as a thatched roof on the Statehouse.

So, why would DeVon agree to carry House Bill 1003, which would require the state to identify every public school district that spends more than 15 percent of its state funding outside the classroom?

The “expenditure targets” bill demands scrutiny for its intent, which clearly targets some districts for consolidation. At minimum, it must be amended to reduce the burdensome reporting regulations it heaps on public schools and to make it align with spending rules that went into effect just three weeks ago.

“Dollars to the classroom” is the tired, disproven cause so-called education reformers have championed for more than a decade. Legislators like it because they can insist they are doing their part for teachers.

That's not the case here. Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, reminded House Education Committee members Jan. 9 that schools have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to property tax caps in the past few years. 

“We're lagging behind on tuition support since 2010 by about four percentage points. Had you kept up with inflation ... we would be about $573 million ahead of where we are right now,” Spradlin told Rep. Jim Lucas when the Seymour Republican asked whether the school board group wanted more money or more flexibility. “Indiana has fallen 10 slots behind (other states) on per-pupil expenditures since 2006. We now rank 34th. So you're doing a pretty good job of dedicating 52 percent of our state resources to K-12, but the reality is because we're not using local levies any longer, we're slipping behind.”

HB 1003 shifts blame for the shortfall in education funding – and, subsequently, to lagging teacher pay – to local school officials, who have had no control over general fund revenue since the state took over that responsibility in a 2008 swap for property tax cuts. Nor do school officials have control over expenses that might force them to transfer more than 15 percent from their just-created education funds to the new operations funds. Utilities, health insurance, fuel and more costs affect the bottom line. School officials don't have control over court-ordered services they might be required to provide a single special education student, as the business manager of Marion Community Schools wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday – services that exceed $42,000 annually.

DeVon himself admitted those factors exist, referring to a school corporation in his district with older schools.

“They have to maintain those buildings and keep them going,” he said. 

The General Assembly has to keep Indiana's public schools going. Pitting teachers against administrators in a battle over too-few dollars might have been intended to distract from the $573 million shortfall. But DeVon's bill, as written, merely draws attention to it.

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