Top state lawmaker says school funding could be cut with virtual learning

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - A top state lawmaker says public school funding could be cut for schools offering virtual-only learning for this coming school year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray sent a letter to school officials late Thursday night to offer more clarity.

In it, he points out that under state law, schools offering only virtual learning receive 85% of normal foundation funding for every student that receives at least half of instruction virtually.

Schools that offer in-person learning or a combination of in-person and virtual learning are likely to be fully funded.

Bray said that a special session of the general assembly would need to be called to change this so schools offering only virtual learning should not expect to be fully funded.

A top Indiana state lawmaker sent a letter to parents regarding school funding when it comes to...
A top Indiana state lawmaker sent a letter to parents regarding school funding when it comes to virtual learning(WNDU)

Local state Senator Mike Bohacek says the letter was meant to inform.

“We knew that we needed to alert school leaders about this one piece of the school funding formula which quite frankly I don’t think anybody realized that this would ever be triggered with the public school systems,” Bohacek said. “I think certainly this is a very unique time for us. So the purpose of the letter is just to inform school corporations that this is potentially what could happen.”

Back in June, Indiana Superintendent Dr. Jennifer McCormick released a set of guidelines on how virtual learning should be recorded.

McCormick suggests a “virtual due to COVID” option for students. If that’s the case, the state will fund schools 100% for those students.

If students were receiving virtual learning prior to the pandemic, the state would continue to receive 85% of funding for them.

Again, these are just recommendations.

“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,” Dr. McCormick said in a statement today. “The fluidity created by this pandemic has already added undue burden to districts who are focused on establishing and maintaining safe learning environments for students and staff. 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. I urge Governor Holcomb to honor the promise he made to Hoosier children to provide sustainable funding to K-12 schools, by calling a special session to address this concern. We must do better for our children and families.”

Ranking Minority leader of the Senate Education Committee, State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) released a statement in response to Bray’s letter.

“Despite multiple assurances from Governor Holcomb and Republican leadership that school funding would not see cuts, the letter that Sen. Bray sent to school leaders is threatening a 15% decrease in funding for any schools choosing to operate remotely. I’m shocked and appalled that our children and teachers would be used as sacrificial lambs just to make a political point.

“This is a real virus, with positive cases rising daily. Now, due to the mishandling of this pandemic from the president, and our leaders as a whole, school funding is being held hostage and used as a political tool. It is because of the mismanagement of this public health crisis - including lack of sufficient PPE, adequate contact-tracing, testing and rising case numbers - that schools have no choice but to put the health of students, staff and surrounding communities first. That means providing remote learning so they can work on slowing the spread of this virus, while still educating our students.

“There have already been several cases of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in reopened schools. It’s shameful that funding cuts are even a discussion with all that is going. As if our school leaders aren’t concerned with enough, as they bend over backwards, redesigning lesson plans and teaching styles to ensure their students are able to get a quality education. The fact that public schools have to worry about having aid taken from them when we’re in the middle of this deadly public health crisis, speaks volumes about the way our state values public schools.

“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. We know that there is already deep inequity in public school funding. To put another obstacle in place to strip away vital funds, that are already stretched thin, is simply unacceptable. The governor needs to step up and protect our public schools, teachers and students.

“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. Given the importance of making sure that our already underfunded public schools are not crippled further as we deal with the hurdles of this pandemic, I hope Sen. Bray will join the Senate Democratic Caucus in urging the governor to call a special session to pass the necessary legislation to protect our public schools, students and teachers during this time. Anything less is a disregard for the desperate situation our public schools are already in, as well as for the lives of the communities that will be affected by this.”

Sen. Bohacek says lawmakers will work to fix this.

“The state legislature and my colleagues at both sides of the aisle agree that we’re going to need to either fix this by a special session or retroactively in the regular session,” Bohacek said. “But it’s my opinion that there is no problem with getting the funding stabilized the way it’s supposed to be and to make sure that our kids have appropriate resources to go to school.”

Democratic lawmakers and Dr. McCormick are calling on Governor Eric Holcomb to call lawmakers back to Indianapolis for a special session.

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