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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018 1:00 am

General Assembly

School growth raises concerns

Bills won't cover looming shortfall

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The funding shortfall facing Indiana schools just keeps getting larger. And lawmakers are struggling to fill it.

The latest in the narrative is a revised estimate on how much money legislators need to cover unexpected enrollment growth for schools. Two bills are moving but neither would fully cover the shortfall for this school year and 2019.

“I know the districts are counting on this whole body living up to their commitment,” Gail Zeheralis, lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said Tuesday at the House Ways and Means Committee.

When lawmakers pass a two-year state budget they must estimate school funding based of expected enrollment. But this year that projection was off.

Initially it was thought the funding shortfall was less than $10 million. But as further special education student counts roll in that has risen to about $25 million for this year.

Both bills would cover that amount by shifting money from the emergency tuition relief fund. But a new analysis shows the shortfall could be nearly $60 million in 2019.

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown said that is an aggressive estimate as he doesn't expect two large increases in public school enrollment two years in a row.

The overall K-12 education budget is $7 billion annually. If schools received no additional funding beyond what was the two-year state budget adopted in 2017, districts would lose an average of $21 per student this school year and $55 next year.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said legislators just need to fix it once and not come back again next year. He said schools should get exactly what lawmakers promised and nothing less.

The committee didn't vote Tuesday on Senate Bill 189 as they consider possible amendments.