Lawmakers debate Pence plan to boost charter funding

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In the wake of Gov. Mike Pence’s budget proposal for the next biennium, the debate about whether to boost funding for charter schools is heating up.

The Senate Appropriations Committee heard almost two hours of testimony Thursday from representatives both for and against the governor’s suggested $1,500 per-student grant to the state’s public charter schools.

Chad Timmerman, education policy director for the governor, said the grant money is “intended to address the funding inequities between the public schools and charters.”

The grants are estimated to total $86.5 million through the next two fiscal years, which would be taken from the additional $200 million Pence is seeking to spend on K-12 school funding. The current two-year budget sends roughly $13.35 billion to schools.

Currently, both charter and public schools have access to the same state and federal funding. However, charter schools do not receive money from local property taxes – as traditional public schools do – to fund capital expenditures such as property upkeep, transportation and expansion.

“Traditional public schools are local districts. They are really like local units of government that have the power to tax within their boundaries,” Timmerman said. “Charter schools have no such authority and consequently must make do with state and federal funds only.”

Jon Hage, president of Charter Schools USA, said that if Indiana charter schools do receive the proposed per-student grants, they would be used to fund needed capital projects.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz also testified in front of the committee and said she isn’t sure charter schools intend to spend the grant money solely on capital developments.

“I have not heard that the $1,500 added to that (per-pupil charter funding) would just be for capital,” Ritz said. “So I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t feel the data shows the need for public charters to be receiving more tuition dollars to use as they may wish because they actually are receiving the very same amounts in most cases” as traditional public schools.

By fiscal year 2017, Indiana’s charter school enrollment is estimated to total 30,500 students, while traditional public school numbers are projected to stay above 1 million.

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