Compromise on school funding

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Fix the way Indiana funds public schools, indeed [Feb. 23 Steve Freeland Viewpoint]!

Aristotle said, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.” Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township is a member of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, which includes 353,916 students in 37 districts, one of three students enrolled in Indiana’s public schools.

Freeland’s op-ed compares Carmel Clay Schools to Wayne Township, districts separated by 13 students, according to Indiana Department of Education and Department of Local Governmental Finance data, and have a funding differential of only $222 per student.

These communities look very different and have unique challenges.

In Wayne Township, nearly eight of 10 students come from households which qualify for free or reduced lunch. In Carmel Clay, it’s only one in 10. Yet both districts demonstrated equal median growth in math and English/language. Wayne Township’s 2014 graduation rate is 94 percent while Carmel Clay’s is 97 percent.

Without over simplifying, we must consider both the State Basic Grant and the district’s ability to levy property tax. Carmel Clay’s net assessed valuation is more than double Wayne Township’s. Both districts have tuition support of $4,587 per student.

Wayne Township receives a poverty adjustment of $1,913 per student for its 12,341 children in poverty while Carmel Clay receives $226 per student for its 1,623 children in poverty—a difference of $1,687 per student.

Considering property tax collections, Carmel Clay collects $3,510.72 per student while Wayne Township collects $2,046.45, a difference of $1,464.67.

Combining property tax revenues and the basic grant, Wayne Township receives just $222 more per child currently. If the poverty adjustment is eliminated and poverty is no longer a factor, Carmel Clay would receive $1,465 more per student than Wayne Township.

The House budget proposal is based on an enrollment increase of 227 in Carmel Clay and 241 in Wayne Township. If enrollment targets were met, Carmel Clay funding would increase by $9 million while Wayne Township would increase by only $3.7 million.

Both districts provide tremendous opportunities for student success and receive nearly identical revenue per student enrollment. However, districts like Carmel Clay would like more money in the basic grant, while districts like Wayne Township would like additional property tax revenues. Aristotle was right.

Jeff Butts, superintendent
Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township; president, Indiana Urban Schools Association

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