Indiana Chamber-Ball State Study: Student Performance Suffers in Smaller Districts

School corporation size has a direct impact on student achievement. And more than half of Indiana school corporations are too small to produce the most effective outcomes, according to research commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation and conducted by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

Numerous earlier studies, both nationally and by CBER, found that school corporations with fewer than 2,000 students are not able to operate at optimal efficiency to maximize resources going into the classroom. This new study – School Corporation Size & Student Performance: Evidence from Indiana – (full report and Appendix available at also documents significantly poorer academic performance, on average, for students from these smaller corporations. Comprehensive analysis and modeling reveals the following improved outcomes if school corporations contain between 2,000 and 2,999 students:

  • SAT test scores (+20.5 points)
  • Advanced Placement (AP) pass rates (+14.9%)
  • Eighth-grade ISTEP scores (+5%)
  • Algebra and biology end of course assessment (ECA) pass rates (+4%)

“This is not about closing buildings or eliminating schools,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “It’s about reducing per-pupil administrative costs to put more money into classrooms, increasing pay for deserving teachers, making more STEM classes available and, most importantly, helping ensure the best possible student outcomes.

“That will drive per capita income and is especially critical for smaller communities,” he continues. “Greater student achievement is the biggest thing we can do for rural economic development and those local residents.”

In 2014, 154 of Indiana’s 289 school corporations had total enrollments of less than 2,000 students. Eighty-five of those corporations experienced enrollment declines of 100 or more students between 2006 and 2014.

Only 21 of Indiana’s 92 counties have a single school corporation. Twenty-two counties have three corporations, 19 have two corporations and 13 have four corporations. The most corporations in a single county are 16 in Lake County and 11 in Marion County.

“With today’s fierce competition for talent, too many young people in our state are suffering due to inadequate preparation for postsecondary education or the workforce,” Brinegar adds. “The data show smaller corporations are getting smaller. In many instances, it’s already too difficult for them to overcome the challenges of limited resources.”

Ball State researchers took into account demographic and socioeconomic factors. For example, the average SAT score of 949.5 in the smallest corporations (between 240 and 999 students) compares to a 989.8 average in corporations with between 2,000 and 2,999 students. Even when economic differences between corporations are factored in, that 40-point raw gap remains at more than 20.5 points.

AP course offerings are one indicator of preparation for higher education, with higher-level math and science courses often a pre-requisite for pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors. Corporations with fewer than 1,000 students offered an average of 2.69 AP courses with enrollment of 8.53 students in 2015. That compares to 5.95 offerings and 22.26 students for corporations with between 2,000 and 2,999 students and even more courses and student participants in larger school districts.

The research reveals “94% of Indiana’s small school corporations (fewer than 2,000 students) are contiguous with another small corporation.”

North Central Parke Community School Corp. was created in 2013 by the merger of the Rockville and Turkey Run school districts. Parke County continues to lose population and district enrollment for the most recent school year was only 1,200. In April, the school board voted to combine (within two years) into one high school and one middle school.

“It’s hard to operate a comprehensive academic program” with so few students, district superintendent Tom Rohr said at the time of the most recent vote. “That’s really … a driving force. Our teachers have gotten behind this. They are saying, ‘Let’s do what is best for kids.’”

Why Consolidation is Right for Muncie/Delaware County

James Gooden, a Muncie native and consultant for GEA Architects, penned a thoughtful column for the The Star Press contending the time has come for Muncie and Delaware County to merge into a single unit of local government. The Indiana Chamber has been working to reduce government duplication statewide for years now, and we’re happy to see this getting more press.

Why should we merge Muncie and Delaware County into a single unit of local government?

It should be done because the current form is archaic and it is not in sync with present or future lifestyles and employment trends. Along with having high value for education, quality health and wellness facilities, and lifestyle opportunities, communities with effective and creative government are attractive as places to work and live: All are appealing traits to potential investors.

It bears recognizing that effort to bring new investment to ECI in no way diminishes the importance of the significant roll that current manufacturing, agriculture, retail and service sectors play in our economy. All are poised for growth. While, now, only about 1 percent of the county’s workforce is engaged in farming the land, the diverse business of agriculture stands out because it has been a mainstay since the pioneer days of the 19th century, but the industry has changed with the times — local government has not.

Town and country are today a homogenized community. Yet, we still operate local government in a horse-and-buggy fashion and that prompts a couple of pertinent examples. Recently, the rebuilt West Jackson Street bridge, opened to traffic after a long closure. In a related Star Press article, County commissioner Todd Donati pointed out that all bridges (except those carrying state highways) are constructed and maintained by the county. Conversely, the streets (except those carrying state highways) leading to and away from the bridges in Muncie are constructed and maintained by the city. How absurd is that (?)

Consolidation, Buckeye Style

As the township/local government consolidation debate continues in Indiana, the Dayton Business Journal recently featured a similar issue in Ohio. It seems officials in the Dayton area are considering implementing a regional government to help streamline functions and avoid a litany of competing tax structures:

Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley and Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams both endorsed the idea of having a regional form of government Tuesday morning at the Montgomery County Regional Development Forum.

The officials, panelists at the Dayton Business Journal event, were joined by J.P. Nauseef, a business owner and former economic development leader; Michael Greitzer, a commercial development executive; and Jeff Hoagland, Vandalia city manager.

All five panel members agreed the region needs to move towards a regional economic development approach, with strong central governance. Proponents of regional government say the model would make the Dayton region more attractive to outside investment as well as retaining businesses…

A member of the audience likened the discussions to going on a diet to try and lose weight, in that people always say they will start a diet next week, but never follow through.

“I think the first step is we have issues and to accept that,” Williams said. “We need to accept that we need to lose some weight.”

County Government Reorganization Bill Moves to Senate Floor

Indiana Chamber-supported SB 506 (County Government Reorganization – Sen. Phil Boots) passed the Senate Local Government Committee 6-5 after being amended. It will now head to the Senate floor.

Those voting with the Chamber in support were: Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), Beverly Gard (R-Greenfield), Travis Holdman (R-Markle), Connie Lawson (R-Danville), Sue Landske (R-Cedar Lake) and Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago).

Those against were: Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis), Jim Buck (R-Kokomo), Tim Lanane (D-Anderson), Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) and Richard Young (D-Milltown).

This bill reorganizes structure of county government to one of two models – either a single county executive (instead of three commissioners) with the legislative duties transferred to the county council or having a combined county commission that would have a county manager to carry out the county executive duties. It also makes changes to locally originated reorganization procedures and creates the Office of Local Government Technical Assistance.

This will be the first Kernan-Shepard bill to go to the Senate floor, after a long and difficult committee hearing. The bill was changed with two added amendments. The first one stripped the original bill and added an additional county government model that resembles a town board and a mechanism for local choice to be made. It allows a two-week period for the current county commissioners to make one of three choices: 1) select the Kernan-Shepard model of county government with a single county executive and transfer legislative duties to the county council, 2) opt for a more rural county model with a five-person council that hires a county manager or 3) simply do nothing.  If the county commissioners do nothing, it triggers a voter referendum for them to make the choice between the two options. The second amendment exempted Lake County from the bill.

The Indiana Chamber organized supporting testimony and appreciates the many people from around the state who came to testify in support of various aspects of the bill. This will be very contentious in the full Senate, with many anticipated amendments to change its applicability. Moreover, many legislators feel that "their" county government is just fine and don’t see the need to change.

Call your Senator NOW at (800) 382-9467 to let them know you support SB 506 in its current form. The bill is scheduled for a second reading on the Senate floor today.

Reporter: No Excuse for Indiana Legislature to Ignore Consolidation

WRTV6 reporter and blogger Norman Cox offered some very sensical commentary over the break, asking the Indiana legislature to "walk and chew gum at the same time" when it comes to consolidating government. Most notably, he believes the legislature should stop making excuses and actually work to implement the township consolidation put forth in the Kernan-Shepard report. He writes:

As soon as Governor Mitch Daniels announced his plan to reorganize county government and get rid of townships, a modified version of last year’s Kernan-Shepard report, House Speaker Pat Bauer immediately shot down the idea, saying that legislators need to spend all their time on salvaging Indiana’s economy, balancing the budget, and keeping critical state functions such as schools afloat. Why? Are our senators and representatives collectively unable to do more than one task at a time?

I suspect the real reason for deep-sixing any reform package is that too many members simply oppose the idea for various reasons. Because they once held the lower-level offices that would be eliminated. Because their friends and supporters now hold them. Maybe because they genuinely believe getting rid of the offices is a bad idea. But don’t use the economy as an excuse.

Drama in Washington Township

So local TV reporter Norman Cox wanted to ask some questions about a pay raise the Washington Township Board members gave themselves (in a 4-3 vote) last night. Well, that didn’t go so well as the whole transparency thing kind of went down the ol’ commode:

Last night the township board’s Democratic majority rammed through a 60% pay raise for board members. They did so without speaking one word at the public meeting to justify it. They then refused to answer questions from the media or the public after the meeting.

I won’t post any more because you should really read Cox’s entire blog post if you want to start your weekend with a little disbelief. Oh, and you can watch an entertaining video as well.

Pay raise? Sure, we’ve earned it — just don’t ask us about it.