February 13, 2018

Indiana Facing Larger School Funding Gap Than Projected

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The multimillion-dollar gap in school funding that Indiana legislative leaders have pledged to fill has grown larger than first projected.

The Indiana House and Senate have approved bills allowing an additional $25 million in school funding this year, but a new state legislative analysis predicts a shortfall of nearly $60 million next year, The Indianapolis Star reported .

State Department of Education officials warned school districts in November that they faced cutting per-student payments to schools as the state budget's $7 billion for K-12 education this school year won't fully fund all students. A shortfall of about $9 million was initially projected because of an unanticipated increase in statewide student enrollment.

The education department expects finalized enrollment counts this week, which would give legislators a solid estimate of the needed money.

"It's changed every week," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ryan Mishler, a Republican from Bremen.

If schools received no additional funding beyond what was the two-year state budget adopted in 2017, districts would lose an average of $21 per student this school year and $55 next year.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said any cut will be tough on the state's cash-strapped schools.

"A shortfall is just not acceptable," she said. "Schools are already doing so much with so little."

Lawmakers have committed to fully fund the gap for the current school year, but Mishler said he wasn't prepared to do so for next year.

"I'm really, mostly concerned about this year, making sure that's covered," he said. "Then we'll look at the second year."

Mishler said he has heard projections that the 2018-19 education budget could fall short by anywhere from $24 million to $69 million.

Officials have attributed the funding gap to more students enrolling in public schools than expected. Enrollment charter schools and the state's private-school voucher program has remained steady, according to lawmakers.

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