Schools getting budget boost

GREENFIELD — Millions of additional dollars will be streaming into Hancock County schools under the two-year state budget passed this week by the Indiana General Assembly.

All four school corporations will see funding increases: more than $7 million in additional revenue is expected to stream into the schools by the end of 2017, according to estimates from the Legislative Services Agency.

School leaders Thursday were cautiously optimistic about the estimates.

“It’s nice getting any new money from the state,” said Eastern Hancock superintendent Randy Harris.

“I think it gives us at least a starting point to start looking at and evaluating our budgets.”

But the estimates are just that: funding depends on how many students attend the school. Still, the per-pupil funding formula is up for each school district.

Eastern Hancock will see a 5.1 percent increase during the next two years, from $5,303 in 2015 to $5,579 in 2017. Greenfield-Central will see a 5.4 percent increase; Mt. Vernon a 5.9 percent increase.

Southern Hancock will see the largest per-student increase at 7.3 percent.

Education funding was a priority for the state legislature this year, said Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield.

“We’ve got a balanced budget with significant reserves, and we set a new record for the amount of money we put toward K-12 education, and all the schools in Hancock County did really well,” Cherry said. “Since 2008, when the economy hit, we had to cut education funding… . We’ve more than enough given that money back, and we’ve really emphasized trying to help education.”

Sixty-four percent of the state’s 2016-17 budget is focused on education: $16 billion, or 52 percent, is for K-12 education, while $3.7 billion is for higher education.

The new budget represents an increase of $474 million in K-12 funding alone. On top of the funding to school corporation budgets, legislation also was approved that provides teachers who purchase their own classroom supplies with a $100 tax credit.

“From the very beginning, I pledged that this would be the education session, and our legislative accomplishments reflect that,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said in a news release.

Bosma also represents the northwest portion of Hancock County.

“Providing teachers with a tax credit and substantially increasing our investment in education are just some of the many accomplishments to support our educators,” Bosma said.

According to estimates from the LSA, Eastern Hancock will be getting $8 million of state revenue by 2017, up from the current $7.2 million. Greenfield-Central will receive $28.8 million by 2017, up from $27.8 million. Mt. Vernon will get $22 million by 2017, up from the current $20.6 million. Southern Hancock will see $20 million by 2017, up from the current $18.5 million.

Most school administrators Thursday said they hadn’t even started crunching the numbers and deciding what to do with the additional revenue, but they were grateful.

“Obviously, we’re pleased. It helps us,” said Mike Horton, Mt. Vernon assistant superintendent. “I know they’re trying to make up for the difference because we’ve been one of the lower-tiered school corporations in the state. This is a step in the right direction to get us more in tune with the middle.”

Greenfield-Central superintendent Harold Olin said any additional revenue will be put toward staffing needs in his district.

Since the school corporation is building its own special education department, Olin added, budgets over the next two years will have to be fine-tuned.

Bob Yoder, assistant superintendent at Southern Hancock, said administrators haven’t looked at the funding increase yet or thought about what to do with the boost.

“It does appear that they have given some schools some additional per-pupil funding, trying to close the huge gap that some of us are having, which is positive,” Yoder said.

At Eastern Hancock, Harris said it’s hard to say how the additional funding will be used over the next two years. The district might add a teaching position, for example, increase employee salaries or implement new educational programs.

It’s still way too early to make those decisions, Harris said.

“The budget year starts Jan. 1,” he said. “It’s not like all of a sudden next week, we get a big check. We’ll use the data we receive now as we create a budget for 2016 and 2017.”

At a glance

The Indiana General Assembly closed its session Wednesday and approved a 2016-2017 budget. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

52% ($16 billion) for K-12 education

12% ($3.7 billion) for higher education

13% ($4 billion) for Medicaid

9% ($2.7 billion) for health and human services

6% ($1.8 billion) for general government

4% ($1.4 billion) for corrections

2% ($577 million) for capital projects

2% ($516 million) for public safety

Source: House Republican Communications Department