budget basics

School funding will be a key issue this year. Here’s a reminder of how it works in Indiana.

This story has been corrected to reflect what dollars make up the state’s contribution to schools.

The drafting of Indiana’s next state budget is already underway, a centerpiece of this year’s session given that education funding is more than half the state’s budget.

Proposals are in from Gov. Eric Holcomb and state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick — both suggesting a 3 percent, $280 million increase in basic state aid to schools. But House and Senate lawmakers, the key players in the process, have yet to detail their own plans. The House is expected to make its amendment to the budget, House Bill 1001, in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, lawmakers are responsible for creating and tweaking the formula that determines school funding (a complex process you can brush up on with our school funding explainer).

The biggest question is whether lawmakers will stick with Holcomb and McCormick’s conservative funding asks or boost money to education. It’s not yet clear which strategy will win out, especially when the state has already cautioned that it’s working with less revenue than previously expected.

It’s possible we have a scenario like what happened in 2015: Then-Gov. Mike Pence also proposed a 3 percent increase for schools — a $200 million bump. But later, legislative leaders came back with more money for schools, totaling more than $460 million in additional funding when all was said and done.

So how does the state decide how much money schools get?

The money comes primarily from state sales and income tax dollars that are funneled into the state’s general fund. After lawmakers settle on a final amount, it’s run through a formula to divvy it up among schools, based partially on enrollment and partially on whether schools enroll certain groups of students, such as those with special needs or those from low-income families.

Because of an adjustment all districts now receive the same basic state aid amount. Extra money for the various student groups is added through what is called a “complexity index.”

Currently, that amount is based on how many children receive welfare services or are in foster care, rather than the number of children who qualify for the federal free lunch program as it was in prior years. That could see debate this year, as some educators and policymakers have complained that the change has meant schools that need the funding the most have gotten less than before.

For more on the history and inner-workings of Indiana school funding, check out our basics post: The basics of school funding in Indiana: Difficulty defining fairness.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.


More than 1,000 Memphis school employees will get raise to $15 per hour

PHOTO: Katie Kull

About 1,200 Memphis school employees will see their wages increase to $15 per hour under a budget plan announced Tuesday evening.

The raises would would cost about $2.4 million, according to Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance.

The plan for Shelby County Schools, the city’s fifth largest employer, comes as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to Memphis in 1968 to promote living wages.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson read from King’s speech to sanitation workers 50 years and two days ago as they were on strike for fair wages:

“Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life or our nation. They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation … And it is criminal to have people working on a full time basis and a full time job getting part time income.”

Hopson also cited a “striking” report that showed an increase in the percent of impoverished children in Shelby County. That report from the University of Memphis was commissioned by the National Civil Rights Museum to analyze poverty trends since King’s death.

“We think it’s very important because so many of our employees are actually parents of students in our district,” Hopson said.

The superintendent of Tennessee’s largest district frequently cites what he calls “suffocating poverty” for many of the students in Memphis public schools as a barrier to academic success.

Most of the employees currently making below $15 per hour are warehouse workers, teaching assistants, office assistants, and cafeteria workers, said Johnson.

The threshold of $15 per hour is what many advocates have pushed to increase the federal minimum wage. The living wage in Memphis, or amount that would enable families of one adult and one child to support themselves, is $21.90, according to a “living wage calculator” produced by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Board members applauded the move Tuesday but urged Hopson to make sure those the district contracts out services to also pay their workers that same minimum wage.

“This is a bold step for us to move forward as a district,” said board chairwoman Shante Avant.