Indiana State Senators Rodric Bray, left, and Eddie Melton

Online learning puts Indiana school districts at risk of funding cuts

Contributed By:The 411 News

State Senator Bray reminds educators Indiana law only funds 85% for virtual learning

Indiana's school funding formula law that sets a limit of 85% state support for students in online virtual schools could apply to public school districts that are beginning this year's instruction with virtual learning because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

School and state leaders were reminded of the possible 15% decrease in state funding in a letter they received from Indiana State Senator Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) Thursday evening, August 6.

"I want to make sure that school leaders understand the current state law for school funding as it pertains to virtual instruction and how their school's FY 2021 funding may be impacted by their reopening decisions," Bray wrote. "Changing this policy would require legislation to be passed by the General Assembly in our next session," Sen. Bray wrote.

Current state law stipulates that schools will receive 85% of the normal state funding for any student who receives at least half of his or her instruction virtually.

Bray acknowledged that state leaders favor full funding for virtual instruction because of the pandemic. "However, there is no guarantee such an exception will be made for schools that don't give families the option of in-person instruction in a school building."

In June, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he would support fully funding all students enrolled in public school districts, regardless of whether they attend school in person or online. Current state support for each student is $5,700.

Gary Teachers Union president GlenEva Dunham called Bray's letter "unacceptable. The governor told us schools would not be harmed and we would retain full funding."

Gary's union is an affiliate of the nation's American Federation of Teachers, where Dunham was recently named a vice president. "Our union has 1.5 million members. We have a strike force and will use it if schools lose their funding during this pandemic."

Indiana's Democratic Caucus leader Tim Lanane described Bray's letter "as like throwing a curveball late in the game."

Lanane wrote in a statement, "Until now, local districts have been left to make their own determinations as to what is best for the health and safety of students and staff. Now, after these difficult choices have already been made, they are essentially being told, ‘unless you offer an option for in-person instruction, no matter how dangerous you might think it is, or how unprepared you may be, you will suffer financially.’"

Bray's letter surprised many in state leadership, including Indiana's Supt. of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. “I, along with many school officials, were extremely disappointed to receive President Tempore Bray’s funding letter, released just days after many schools have started."

McCormick said, "A potential 15 percent cut per pupil is not sustainable at a time districts are working hard to create multiple learning platforms. Penalizing districts who cannot offer onsite instruction leads to dangerous decision making."

State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) said Bray's letter shows how school funding is being held hostage and used as a political tool.

In a statement Melton said, “Instead of providing more resources to those in need during this critical time, Republican leadership is choosing political partisanship and gambling with the safety and lives of children, educators and their communities in the process. The governor needs to step up and protect our public schools, teachers and students."

Melton added, “Preserving 100% of the funding for traditional brick and mortar schools is essential for schools to transition back as smoothly as possible as the pandemic evolves. In his letter, Sen. Bray pointed out that the school funding policy could only be changed if legislation was passed by the General Assembly."

Melton asked Sen. Bray to join with the Senate Democratic Caucus in urging the governor to call a special session to pass the necessary legislation to protect public schools, students and teachers during the pandemic.

The next day, Gov. Holcomb said he was still committed to full funding for school districts choosing virtual learning. “As I’ve said before, I am committed to providing 100% funding to schools as they navigate the unprecedented challenges of opening the academic year during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holcomb said in the statement.

In a statement issued Friday, Bray said he’s “happy to continue the conversation about how those schools that do not offer an in-person option for students are funded.”

Story Posted:08/08/2020

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