A last-minute change to a bill at the Statehouse in the days before the 2020 legislative session came to an end opens the door for charter schools to receive property tax funding through referendum measures. Lawmakers approved the multi-purpose bill on the last day of session after more than an hour debating the language.
The charter-referendum sharing proposal was added to a tax bill last week by a vote so split in the Senate that Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch had to break the tie. It says school boards can decide whether to share referendum money with nearby charter schools.
The proposal received pushback for its content – but also for its timing; Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) pitched the idea as an amendment on the floor of the Senate ahead of a crucial deadline, meaning the language wasn't available for a public hearing.
Ahead of the final vote, many Democrats, including Rep. Earl Harris (D-East Chicago) spoke against it, saying it could trigger problems for public schools seeking referendum funding.
"There is nothing stopping a charter organization from doing what I said they could do. Which is go to the school district and say 'pay us, or we will fight against it,'" Harris says.
Many Republicans pushed back on those concerns, saying locally elected school boards control the process. But lawmakers from Gary or the surrounding area – like Harris – took issue with that idea. The state currently oversees Gary schools instead of a locally elected board, with several charter schools nearby.
Supporters of the proposal also say sharing the referendum funding with local charter schools could help broaden support for referendum measures in a community. Charters have repeatedly expressed interest in accessing more local funding.
Several Democrats argue charter schools enroll students from outside of their local tax boundaries, and Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) called the idea of giving property tax funding to charters "destructive."
"We've heard this gripe for years: 'we don't get any property tax money, we don't get any property tax money'–you don't get any property tax money because you don't have any property!" DeLaney says.
The bill now goes to the governor.