Hancock County schools hope for funding boost

GREENFIELD — Every Hancock County school corporation would see an increase in funding under a House budget proposal on the table in the state General Assembly.

Local administrators are excited about the possibility of a boost to their general funds, which pay for staff, supplies and more. But they’re cautiously optimistic, waiting until the conclusion of the legislative session when a final budget plan has been made.

“Right now, stamped all over it, it’s got the word, ‘estimate,'” said Bob Yoder, Southern Hancock assistant superintendent, referring to a Legislative Services Agency report that promises Southern Hancock the largest percent increase over all the county schools at 8.1 percent over the next two years.

Currently, the school corporation receives $5,024 per pupil. By 2017, the proposal promises $409 more, at $5,433. Using current enrollment numbers, that means the school corporation could see a budget boost of $1.3 million by 2017.

But Yoder is not exactly sharpening the pencil on what to do with the additional money just yet.

“This is the first blush at this. There are lots of uncertainties there,” he said.

State lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives both have to approve Indiana’s budget for the next two years, including any changes to the funding formula. That means the proposed budget and funding formula changes could be altered again before they’re approved in the spring.

School districts use the taxpayer dollars linked to enrollment to pay primarily for employees’ salaries and their insurance benefits. School districts also sometimes use that money to make up for property tax shortfalls caused by property tax caps. Property tax dollars pay for expenses including transportation, technology and building maintenance.

While there are a lot of uncertainties, local school administrators like the general trend among lawmakers to put more money back into education.

“Here back in 2008 or 2009, when they cut $300 million from school funding, everybody in the county went through cutting the staff, teachers, custodians…,” Yoder said. “Everything is pretty well bare bones, and hopefully, we’re going to be able to get some of that back.”

Harold Olin, Greenfield-Central superintendent, said while the final version is unknown, he’s pleased lawmakers are at least looking at more funding for schools. Still, he also is curious how state lawmakers will support charter schools and voucher programs.

“It’s just way too early to be excited about it,” he said.

Eastern Hancock Superintendent Randy Harris echoed concerns on charter schools and vouchers, but said he too is pleased Eastern could see a funding increase of roughly 6.3 percent during the two years.

Mt. Vernon could see a nearly 7 percent increase during two years, totaling at least $2 million under the proposal.

School funding is a complicated formula in which schools receive a base pay per student and then additional money based on a variety of factors, including how many students are on the free and reduced-price lunch program.

That means schools that have a higher amount of students on the lunch program will be getting more money per student. Yoder said historically, Hancock County schools have been among the bottom third of corporations in the state when it comes to per-student funding.

Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, is a leader on the House committee that helped form the budget. He said lawmakers heard loud and clear from folks in the education community that the school funding formula should be more fair and balanced.

The proposal, he added, will give more money to schools for kindergartners. Currently, kindergartners are counted as half; the new formula counts kindergartners like all the other students.

Cherry said while the proposal, which earmarks nearly $500 million over two years to education, is not a done deal, local administrators can be sure House leaders set the tone for what they’d like to see the Senate to do in the second half of the session.

“It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings, but I think we’ve sent a strong message to the education community that education funding is important, and we’re backing it up with a formula to address it,” he said.

Tom Lange of the Daily Journal in Franklin contributed to this report.