Charter schools and traditional public schools are often portrayed as rivals — for the same pool of money, students and teachers.
But at a conversation about school funding tonight, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he wasn’t so much bothered by Gov. Mike Pence’s proposal to siphon off about $40 million for charter schools from the state’s next education budget.
He just thinks it should be confined to the charter schools that are already open, not new charter schools in what he believes is already a saturated market.
“I can’t ignore the fact that there are charter schools that are struggling with their operating costs, and there are charters in our city where students don’t have access to transport,” Ferebee said. “And at the end of the day, I consider those students our students, and I want those students to have access to transportation just like the students who attend IPS.”
At an event hosted by Chalkbeat, WFYI and the Central Library attended by more than 100 people, Ferebee was joined on a panel about school funding by Indiana House Speaker Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville; and Chris Himsel, superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools in Fort Wayne.
Pence’s staff presented his budget proposal to the State Budget Committee this morning, suggesting $200 million additionally for all schools in the next two years. Of that, about $40 million, or $1,500 per child, was proposed on top of basic tuition aid for charter schools.
Charter schools, unlike traditional public schools, use operating money for costs like school buildings and transportation. Public schools pay those costs with small portion of property taxes that still go to local school districts. Otherwise all education costs are paid at the state level, mostly through sales and income tax.
That’s because of moves Indiana made in recent years to reduce local property tax bills.
Wealthy, mostly suburban school leaders have complained that those shifts have unexpectedly hurt their ability to offer basic services, as high poverty districts sometimes get thousands of extra dollars to support services for poor children and others that face learning barriers that wealthy district’s don’t. Locally for example, the highest per-student aid amount goes to IPS, about $2,900 more than the lowest, which is suburban Carmel.
None of the panelists offered specifics for how to fix the system, but Brown said to expect the “lion’s share” of new state spending to go toward education.
That might or might not be enough, Himsel said.
His suburban district struggles to retain teachers. Fort Wayne is close to the borders of Michigan and Ohio, where schools pay teachers more. The only way to close the gap right now is ask voters to approve a local tax referendum. But that’s a hard sell. Voters think funding reforms of recent years were supposed to cover the cost of a quality education.
“I thought the whole point was that (the state) could take care of us,” Himsel said.
But the state can’t solve everything, Bosma said. But there has been progress, such as protecting the state budget against more tax cuts. Last year, the legislature agreed to a tax cut Pence pushed for, but smaller than the cut he proposed.
“I don’t see (tax increases) on the horizon,” Bosma said. “But we’ve at least got certain corners to stop talking about tax cuts.”
In response to complaints that districts must be more efficient in spending the money they have, Ferebee said most people don’t understand the difficulties IPS schools face. Some students come to school without basic needs, like food and shelter, being met at home.
“This notion that you really don’t need those funds … I would challenge anyone to come and serve our students,” Ferebee said. “You’ll see what we do every day.”
Funding shouldn’t just be about providing students with only the basics of education.
“We can’t just fund basic needs,” Himsel said. “We have very high expectations for our kids of what we want to them to achieve. We’ve just got to figure out a way to make sure we have the resources to help them get there.”