Funds needed for students with unique needs

As anyone with children knows, no two kids need exactly the same thing. That’s as true in schools as in families.

It’s a truth that our state also has traditionally recognized in how it allocates funding — but in this time of crisis, seems to be forgetting. If the Legislature proceeds in its current direction, the ones who’ll lose the most are precisely those who can least afford it — students with special needs, and those learning English, especially in urban and rural districts throughout Indiana.

The needs aren’t hard to understand. Take this one example. Victor (not his real name) today is a thriving student in a central Indiana high school. But when he and his siblings arrived from a refugee camp, fleeing war in central Africa, they needed everything from clothes to translation help to a tablet and internet access. Because they got what they needed, Victor is now studying health sciences, and could be contributing one day as a doctor or nurse. His little sister is planning to become a teacher. But giving them that start required extra resources — more than some students require.

Students with greater needs like Victor tend to be concentrated in big cities and rural places, which is why the state has set aside special funding to address those needs. It’s called “complexity funding,” which is ironic because offering something extra to those who need it is pretty simple. What’s complex is that in a time when the pandemic has both revealed and worsened the needs of so many students and families, the Legislature is preparing to make no additional investment in these vitally needed funds.

This will be devastating for districts like ours. And federal relief funds — while desperately needed and enormously welcome — are limited in ways that would still leave ongoing huge gaps if the state continues to ignore these realities.

If we believe every kid in Indiana deserves a quality education, our budget should reflect that belief. But over the past few years, the education budget proposed by the Indiana State Legislature has moved us further and further away from that stated priority.

Instead of funding schools fairly, their focus is one-size-fits-all — funding schools “equally.” That’s a big difference, with benefits for certain types of schools and districts, while systems like ours suffer. And the current approach doesn’t work: our districts have felt the impact of stagnant funding for special education, homelessness, and English Language Learners in recent years. Those cuts disproportionately impact districts from Portage to Indianapolis and from Hammond to Huntingburg. Rural and urban schools both have felt the blow and continue to lose more and more of our funding.

That’s why we are coming together — from wide-ranging districts all across our state — to call on our Legislature to equitably fund our schools. The state education budget should consider whether our districts serve large numbers of English Language Learners and students who receive Special Education services. It should actually add dollars to complexity funding so that schools can offer the necessary supports for students we serve like Victor and his sister.

This is not about filling our schools with luxuries and niceties; it’s about meeting the needs of every student to access a high-quality education system — a system that lives up to our proclaimed values.

COVID-19 has presented a stark reminder of how important it is to care for the most vulnerable in our population. While our state continues to confront the unprecedented pandemic, the need to support those students and families is exponentially greater. The question now is will we allow those gaps to continue to widen, or will we put funding where it is most needed to close those gaps and move ALL students forward.

Join us in calling on our legislators and state leaders to deliver an equitable education budget, one that reflects a belief that every child in Indiana — including English language learners and those with special needs — should have a shot. You can send an email to your legislative members by visiting https://p2a.co/7NX0NvG.

The schools that are asked to do more for students should not be asked to do it with less.

Wayne Barker, superintendent, School City of Mishawaka

Mark Daniel, superintendent, Fort Wayne Community Schools

Steven Hope, superintendent, Goshen Community Schools

Aleesia Johnson, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools

Joel McKinney, superintendent, Community Schools of Frankfort

Scott Miller, superintendent, School City of Hammond

Michele Starkey, superintendent, Logansport Community School Corporation

David Smith, superintendent, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation

Brad Snyder, superintendent, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation

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