The budget passed by the just completed session of the Indiana General Assembly put more money into education, but none of the public school superintendents are doing handstands.

Before adjourning the long session on Wednesday night the Legislature approved a $31 billion budget, with $16 billion headed for K-12 education. The 2.3 percent increase totalled $474 million in additional funding. 

“Our state budget reflects our team’s core priorities,” said Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis). “House Republicans have improved our state’s fiscal picture by continuing to adopt a budget that lives within our means. Because of this we have been able to provide a record increase to K-12 education funding, while meeting our strategic investment objectives and maintaining our reserves, making our state the fiscal envy of the the nation.”

While the state may be putting more money into public education area school officials say little of it will land in Daviess County. Education funding will increasingly be tied to following the students. The end result will be big increases in funding for suburban schools, while most rural schools with falling enrollments will lose money.

“The majority of the state may come out OK, but rural school districts like ours that have falling enrollment will be hurt,” said North Daviess School Superintendent Robert Bell. “The state is estimating we will have 17 fewer kids next year. That will mean a loss of income of $150,000 in the first year of the budget and then levelling out the next year. They have also changed some of the factors that can increase the amount of money a school receives per child and it looks like that will hurt us as well.”

Washington School officials say it appears the budget changes will be about a wash for them. “I have heard some numbers and my best estimate is we will be at the status quo,” said Washington School Superintendent Dr. Dan Roach. “We have been fortunate that we have seen a slow, steady growth over the last few years. Right now the state estimates don’t match up with the enrollment trends we have been seeing.”

While Washington and North Daviess are among the 300 Indiana School systems that officials estimate will lose money under the new budget plan, Barr-Reeve is one of the few that will see an increase. “We have been pro-active about this, especially the amount of money the state was paying for each child,” said Superintendent Travis Madison. “We are getting more money, but we are still a long way from average.”

The state is projecting more students at Barr-Reeve over the course of the budget and it appears the school system will see a 5.2 percent funding increase the first year and 2.7 percent over the second year. “We will see how it all plays out,” said Madison. “A little increase is great, but we are a small school and we still need more. It is better. I’m cautiously optimistic we will continue to grow, but I’m not doing any handstands over this budget.”

The budget includes $10 million in additional funding for charter schools and additional money for the voucher program. The increases are about one-fourth of what Governor Mike Pence has put in his original budget request. Local school officials panned the additional money for charters and vouchers.

“If they would throw that $500 bone per student to us we would get to the state average on per pupil spending and it would give us an extra $400,000 in our budget,” said Madison.

“If the voucher and charter school money went back into the public school pot it would be great,” added Bell. 

With the budget in place school officials are now breaking out their pencils to see what they can do with what they expect to receive. “We do have a cash balance and our kindergarten pre-enrollment numbers are up,” said Bell. “We plan on keeping the doors open and educating the kids that show up.”

“We’ll do our best,” said Madison. “We bit the bullet a couple of years ago and had a referendum. We don’t want to do that forever. We want our people to know we are seeking all the funding we can from the state.”

When this session of the Indiana General Assembly began Gov. Mike Pence told lawmakers he wanted this to be known as the education session. A promise that local school officials say has a hollow ring to it.

 “I don’t see that we have gained a great deal,” said Roach. “I can only be thankful we haven’t lost a lot of funding. Of course that doesn’t help us in dealing with increasing costs or with trying to provide cost of living increases for our employees.”

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