On Fixing a Broken Funding System

Scott RobisonA group of low-funded Indiana school districts has sent leaders to ZCS on several The Indiana Fix-It Coalitionoccasions since last May to collaborate. These superintendents and chief financial officers from places like Munster, Carmel, Batesville, Southwest Allen, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield, Avon, Center Grove, Porter County, and more are working with each other, their school boards, chambers of commerce, and city/town or county councils to seek legislative funding formula reform.

The Highs…The Lows!
The districts mentioned above are among the highest performing school communities in Indiana. Because of the legislated funding formula, they are also outlier-low in per pupil funding. In 2015, ZCS will receive more than $800 LESS than the state average in per pupil funding. This equals about $5 million annually (equivalent to about 80 teachers’ salaries!). Imagine what sorts of class size stabilization and program restoration could occur if we were closer to the state average in funding.

Paradoxically, this legislated system (the broken school funding formula) provides the least amount of General Fund per pupil support for the school communities whose residential taxpayers pay the most into the state’s school funding system. What’s more, the law provides just one way to reach closer to the Indiana average per pupil support for our kids—pay again.

ZCS leaders believe that districts of the first version of school choice like ours are left behind by this funding formula. Our current “pay twice or perish” system is not the right answer, and so, our coalition of Indiana low-funded schools has begun to provide legislators with three solution ideas aimed at stopping double taxation and the resulting instability in programs and services for Zionsville students. These solutions do not need to harm other school districts if handled correctly. We are promoting performance based pay for school districts and the establishment of a floor to define the lower boundary for funding formula effectiveness that will elevate more than 40 school districts with outlier low per pupil funding under the current system. Finally, our third solution is designed to share ideas to assist in the event that legislators wish to recast the entire funding structure for Indiana’s public schools.

Early this month, the Zionsville Town Council ratified the supportive resolution shown here—just like boards and commissions in places like Munster, Center Grove, and so on. This month’s local budget hearing and annual budget book* by our Chief Financial Officer Mike Shafer, CPA, includes a very fine white paper on the Indiana state school funding formula. There are many financially savvy individuals in our community who would find the facts of this story of great interest. You can find this excerpt from the broader budget work at this link.

Enough is enough. Our Zionsville students deserve adequate and equitable funding instead serial instability caused by double taxation through referendum.

*CPA Mike Shafer, a well-known statewide expert on Indiana school and municipal funding, has done very informative, annual budget books for a number of years. Much of Mike’s excellent work in this regard can be found at the FINANCE tab of our main web page—and you can see this year’s version (2015 budget book) posted at this same web address.

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

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