All students who attend public school in Johnson County bring tax dollars with them, but that amount can vary by up to $1,500 depending on where they are enrolled.
Center Grove schools will be paid about $5,000 for each of its roughly 7,200 first- through 12th-graders in 2015. Edinburgh schools will receive nearly $6,500 for each of its 900 students in Grades 1-12, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.
Edinburgh receives the most money per student in Johnson County, while Center Grove receives the smallest amount. Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools receive between $5,300 and $5,700 per student from the state, according to the department of education.
A portion of those amounts can go to private schools if families qualify for and participate in the state’s school voucher program. Last school year, nearly 300 local students participated in the program, which enables lower-income families to send their children to private school.
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The difference in the amount school districts receive is due to the complicated state funding formula, which is based on the household income of students’ families. School districts with a large number of students from low-income families get more state money. That’s because studies have shown students from low-income families sometimes need extra help mastering lessons in core subjects.
Center Grove administrators and officials from other school districts throughout Indiana want state lawmakers to consider changing the funding formula, so that the money a school district receives is related to the amount residents pay in state income taxes. Making that happen without taking money away from school districts that need extra funding from the state for low-income students will mean increasing education spending in Indiana during next year’s budget session, school officials said.
“They’re going to have to reach back and find something to help us out a little bit,” Edinburgh Superintendent William Glentzer said. “We’ve cut about all we can cut.”
About 67 percent of Edinburgh’s students come from low-income families, which is the highest rate in the county. Glentzer said the additional state dollars the school district receives are essential in ensuring the school can help all students master lessons in English, math and other core subjects.
“It costs more, in some cases, to educate the populous,” Glentzer said.
By comparison, about 18 percent of Center Grove’s students are from low-income homes, and school district officials don’t want the state to take money from Edinburgh or any other school districts that need additional funding to educate students. But $5,000 per student isn’t enough, officials said.
Center Grove expects to receive $430,000 less than what’s needed to pay for the salaries and benefits of its teachers in 2015, which is primarily what state dollars pay for. The school district can make up that amount with savings, which was at about $2.1 million at the end of 2013. But more money from the state would enable the school district to hire more teachers and decrease class sizes, chief financial officer Paul Gabriel said.
“Are we in trouble today? No,” Gabriel said. “But we really, really have to stretch the dollars we get in order to accomplish the things we want to accomplish.”
Schools receive more money from the state if more students attend their schools, but even if the number of students attending a school rises, the extra money won’t always cover the necessary expenses, Gabriel said.
This year, about 40 more students enrolled at Center Grove, and the school district decided to hire six teachers to ease class sizes in some buildings, which were at or exceeding 30 students per class. The average total for the salary and benefits of a teacher is about $68,000, which equals about $408,000 for six new teachers, Gabriel said. The total additional funding Center Grove will receive from its 40 new students is about $200,000.
“If you do the math, that doesn’t work out at all,” Gabriel said.
Glentzer said he understands Center Grove’s frustration with the way the state funds schools, though he added it’s important to remember Center Grove and other Johnson County school districts including Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson have education foundations that raise funds for them throughout the year. Earlier this year, Center Grove’s education foundation contributed $60,000 so the school district could open classrooms during fall break for students who needed to catch up or who wanted to work ahead.
“We don’t have a lot of big donors,” Glentzer said. “We don’t have a major foundation.”