Chesterton Tribune



State holding schools' feet to the fire: Offer in person teaching or face funding cuts

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Indiana school districts which offer virtual instruction to students for at least half of the academic year could see a cut in their state foundation funding of 15 percent, according to a letter to “school leaders” from State Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville.

“Current state law stipulates that schools will receive 85 percent of the normal foundation funding for any student who receives at least half of his or her instruction virtually,” Bray stated in the letter, dated Thursday, Aug. 6. “Changing this policy would require legislation to be passed by the General Assembly in our next session.”

“State leaders have said we favor fully funding students whose families choose virtual instruction this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Bray noted in the letter. “I believe there is a strong appetite for making that change. However, there is no guarantee such an exception would 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.”

“I know it is difficult to operate with uncertainty,” Bray added. “My hope is this letter may provide a bit more clarity as schools begin to open across Indiana.”

The clarity to which Bray refers in his letter is not, however, sitting well with the Duneland Teachers Association (DTA). In an email to the Chesterton Tribune, a DTA member suggests that the state in fact is coercing school districts into offering in-person instruction, regardless of safety and health concerns, by threatening deep funding cuts. “The State of Indiana is now holding school corporations over a barrel with state funding if they do not offer an in-person option to their students this year, threatening to gut their state funding support by 15 percent,” the DTA member stated. “A 15-percent reduction of state support for the Duneland School Corporation equals approximately $5 million a year in funding.”

The Duneland School Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, to consider the administration’s recommendation to delay the start of classes--in-person or virtual--to Aug. 25.

Parents have been asked to register their children either for in-person or virtual instruction by the end of the day today.

Indiana Senate leader warns less funding for schools online

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana’s Senate president warned public schools in a letter that they could face budget cuts if they don’t hold in-person classes this year, despite prior assurances from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state leaders that schools would remain fully funded.

Republican Rod Bray told school leaders in the letter sent Thursday that he wants to “make sure they understand” that state law currently caps per-pupil funding for students who take at least half their classes virtually to 85% of basic tuition support.

That means school districts only offering online instruction to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 could lose 15% of their basic per student funding, equivalent to losing $855 in funding per student.

More than 30 districts are already planning to start their school years online, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said during a Thursday webinar . For those schools, millions of dollars - before thought to be safe - are now on the line.

McCormick said in a statement late Thursday that she is “extremely disappointed” with Bray’s letter. The state superintendent is now calling on Holcomb to hold a special legislative session to “honor the promise he made to Hoosier children to provide sustainable funding to K-12 schools.”

Holcomb promised in June that Indiana’s public schools would not face funding cuts during the upcoming fiscal year, despite coronavirus-fueled state revenue losses and budget cuts to other state agencies. The governor further said he supports fully funding all students enrolled in the state’s public schools, whether they’re attending class in-person or online.

“Not only have our K-12 schools been spared the knife - or a cut in their budgets - even while a global pandemic has truly washed upon our shores, but this just underscores the priority or the importance that was place at this very foundational level,” Holcomb said June 17.

In his letter, Bray reiterated there is still “a strong appetite” for the governor’s pledge, but said changing the law would require legislation to be passed by the General Assembly.

Even then, Bray cautioned school leaders: “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.”

Holcomb has been urged by legislative Democrats to bring the General Assembly back in a special session before its scheduled in January. The governor has not agreed to do so however, saying in July a special session wasn’t “on my agenda right now.”

Holcomb’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Bray’s letter follows threats by President Donald Trump to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, too, has said that anything less than a full reopening would be a failure for students and taxpayers.


Posted 8/7/2020




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