There still seems to be an awful lot of confusion out there about the problem of public education funding. I say confusion, but it could just be deliberate deflection and misrepresentation of the roots of the problem in order to serve a political agenda.
This week, I want to lay out the cold hard facts about what the issue is and what it is not.
Let’s start with what the public education funding problem is not.
The problem isn’t to be found in the budget. Folks who continually push back against the Red for Ed movement — including Gov. Holcomb — love to cite budget numbers. They love to mention the impressive increases in the spending going to education. They love to say that about 60% of the state’s budget goes to education and they cry “How much is enough?” as if they are in the process of being shaken down by crooks.
I don’t claim to be a financial expert who knows all the ins and outs of the state budget, but I do know this — the amount of money being spent on education by the state of Indiana isn’t really the problem. It is quite possible that there is enough money being allocated for education as it is. Is that clear enough? OK, so then what is the problem?
The problem is tied to education policy that has been increasingly hostile to public schools — especially public schools in high poverty, crime and trauma areas — over the past 15 years. The money Indiana is spending on education simply does not get to where it’s needed the most. In fact, the places where the money is needed the most are actually losing money.
There were many disastrous policy changes in the past decade and a half that have built up over the years to create this crisis in which we now find ourselves. Let me just list a few:
Property tax caps cost many districts millions of dollars in revenue each year.
Local teachers’ unions had much of their collective bargaining power stripped away.
The guaranteed graduated pay scales which used to give pay increases for each year of service were taken away and replaced by a standardized test performance-based formula by which teachers are judged in order to get any pay raise at all.
So the funding isn’t getting to where it is needed the most. Teachers in high poverty, crime and trauma rate districts have long since seen the writing on the wall and they are leaving in droves. We need to be attracting the best and brightest teachers to those struggling schools and instead, we are driving them away. Our state’s education policies punish the teachers who work with our most challenging kids and those teachers clearly can’t take it any longer. Who is going to replace them and what will become of those kids?