The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 10:01 pm

Let's go to the numbers

Jim Lucas

In an Oct.14 article, Eva Merkel, the Lakeland School District superintendent, provided a wonderful opportunity to educate Hoosiers with facts regarding our public education system and funding.

K-12 schools receive more than half – 52 percent – of our state budget; this includes over $800 million annually for teacher pensions.

The next-highest funding recipient is Medicaid at 13 percent, then higher education at 12 percent. This means we run the rest of the state of 6.5 million Hoosiers, funding our roads, bridges, courts, jails, police, family services, conservation, state parks, BMV, etc. on just 23 percent of our state budget. Indiana devotes almost two-thirds of its state budget toward education, the second-highest percentage in the nation.

K-12 also receives 44 percent of our property tax dollars, more than $1 billion in federal money and millions more in local funding and programs annually.

To imply that public education is not properly funded, while receiving significantly more than double what we run the entire state on, is misleading.

One of the biggest challenges is resource allocation. In a 2013 study of Indiana education, professor Ben Scafidi of Kennesaw State University discovered some interesting facts.

From 1992 to 2013, the student population increased by 9 percent, while the teacher population increased by 26 percent and other staff increased by 46 percent.

If the non-teaching staff had increased the same rate as students did, Hoosier teachers could have an almost $15,000 pay raise.

Data from the Indiana Department of Education show 70,966 teachers for a student population of 1,046,527 students in 2015-16, providing a student to teacher ratio of less than 15-1.

Currently, the percentage of teachers as a total percentage of public education personnel is only 40 percent, which is significantly behind the national average of 50 percent.

Also significant is that only 58 cents of every education dollar makes it to our classrooms. The facts show that we don’t have a funding issue; we have a dollar-allocation issue.

Another issue was raised regarding vouchers and the money spent on them. The amount spent on vouchers is less than 3 percent of what is spent on public education. Vouchers are income-based, capped at 90 percent of what public schools receive.

More importantly, though, every voucher is a parent exercising a choice in their child’s education. Currently, there are about 33,000 vouchers in Indiana, but this number is less than the public school choice called open enrollment, which has more than 43,000 students exercising school choice in the public system.

It is worth noting that, according to DOE data, Lakeland School Corporation has lost fewer than 10 students to the voucher program, whereas it has lost 169 students to neighboring public school districts.

Vouchers aren’t the culprit here, it’s parents exercising choice in their child’s education.

Every one of Indiana’s teachers is highly respected, deeply appreciated, and they’re one of our greatest resources.

Actually, 98 percent of public teachers are rated as effective or highly effective, and the General Assembly allocated $70 million over two years for teacher bonuses to recognize this achievement.

As a person who went through both the public and private education system in Indiana, I experienced many wonderful teachers who had an incredibly positive influence in my life, and I am thankful for those fortunate experiences.

Every elected official in the General Assembly is a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who has family in our public schools and to insinuate that there is a lack of respect or no appreciation for the many fine men and women who teach is disingenuous and counterproductive to working together to provide Hoosier students, parents and taxpayers what they deserve.

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