The timing of Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray’s letter couldn’t have been more inappropriate.
On Aug. 6, Bray, R-Martsinville, sent a notice to Indiana public school superintendents saying districts could face budget cuts if they don’t offer in-person classes.
Under current law — which is intended for virtual charter schools — schools that offer half or more of their classes online receive 85% of funding compared to traditional students. Schools are funded per-student in Indiana, so schools offering online-only curriculum would face major setbacks under Bray’s interpretation of the law.
More than 30 districts have started their school years online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the largest, Indianapolis Public Schools, would face around $28 million in funding cuts, according to IndyStar.
The claims by Bray go against Gov. Eric Holcomb’s position that all schools will receive full funding this school year. Holcomb has been questioned on funding numerous times over the past few months, and his position hasn’t changed. Since June, he’s promised that budget slashing won’t occur in public education.
Locally, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. schools are offering hybrid models of learning, so they should be in the clear either way. However, the existing law doesn’t clarify how funding would work should part of a school year move to online because of the virus.
The next legislative session is in January, but schools can’t wait that long. A special legislative session should be considered to address the issue, and state officials should give a unified stance on the issue.
Bray claimed he wanted to offer “more clarity” regarding state funding in his note, but he didn’t send it until dozens of districts had already started their school years. If anything, the letter created more confusion for school officials already dealing with the challenges of reopening.
Indiana recorded its most positive COVID-19 cases for a week last week since the start of the pandemic. Four of the days saw cases exceed 1,000 new positive cases.
Holcomb has largely left it up to local health departments and schools to figure out their best course of action for the school year. If county and state health officials deem it’s unsafe for students to come into buildings, remote learning should take place.
Parents, students and school corporations shouldn’t be forced into making decisions about health and safety of their student in schools based on whether the state will continue to support the schools financially.
State officials must accommodate schools for the 2020-21 school year. Threatening them with decreased funding is not the answer.
— From the Columbus Republic