The two candidates for state superintendent of public instruction disagree about some issues, but when it comes to education funding, they’re both in agreement: Indiana schools need more money.
Republican candidate Jennifer McCormick said she believes this from personal experience after decades as a teacher, principal and, now, the superintendent of Yorktown schools.
Restrictions put in place over the past few years on how much school districts can collect from property taxes mean districts have to more frequently ask voters through referendums to pay more in taxes to support schools.
“I’m at a district that has felt the (property tax caps),” McCormick said. “It is very alarming. I am struggling to replace buses. I am struggling to keep roofs in shape.”
Incumbent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat and former Washington Township teacher, has had mixed success with proposals to increase funding in various areas since she took office, such as for technology, teacher leaders and students learning English. But recent state budgets haven’t necessarily had the same priorities. While English learners did see more financial support in 2015, some of the state’s poorest districts saw funding reductions, particularly those where enrollment has declined rapidly.
In general, aid for poor students decreased when parts of the state funding formula were adjusted in 2015. Ritz and McCormick both want to revisit that change with lawmakers next year.
“We are starting to starve some of our schools from lack of funding,” Ritz said.
Ritz has battled with legislators in the past over the complicated issue of funding, most notably when it comes to expanding the amount of state funds that go toward charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition. She thinks the state’s system of distributing money based largely on enrollment—called money “following the child”—causes inequities in schools.
“There’s nothing fair about the funding mechanism that’s going on,” Ritz said at a presentation to the Indiana Coalition of Public Education this summer. “Every dollar following the child … at the outset that sounds like a really great idea. But every time that happens … there is no choice but to cut programming for kids.”
Overall, Ritz is asking lawmakers for a $455 million increase in the basic state funding amount for schools, about 2 percent per year.
McCormick hasn’t suggested a proposed budget total yet, but she and Ritz have other areas where they think more state support is necessary.
Both candidates are calling for more state funding for school technology and internet access, especially at a time when more schools are relying on online testing and computer-based instruction.
“We need to make sure schools are ready for what’s coming,” McCormick said.
Ritz and McCormick don’t agree on every funding issue. They differ when it comes to whether families should receive a tax credit for textbooks. Ritz says they should and has called for a $1,000 tax deduction—the same benefit that currently flows to private-school families.
The Education Department estimates that public-school parents could save $60 million over two years with a similar tax break.
“Let public school families get tax breaks for education materials available to private and homeschool families,” Ritz said during her announcement of legislative priorities earlier this year.
McCormick says she’s not sure whether any families should be getting that tax break.
“I’m not saying yes or no,” she said. “Be careful what you wish for … If you open it up to the masses, that’s tax revenue (the state is losing) — and what do we rely on? That’s our money.”
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.