Starting School Funding Cuts at the Top

Education funding ALWAYS generates interest. For many years, it was the funding percentage increase that schools would receive. In recent times, the focus has switched to cuts and trying to minimize the dollar reductions.

In New Jersey, cost cutting governor Chris Christie has state budget woes and education tied together. His target, however, is superintendents’ pay. Not only are there 591 school districts in the Garden State (that’s a ridiculous number), but apparently bidding wars contribute to driving up salaries. While the governor makes a tidy $175,000 a year, that salary is exceeded by 253 of the school leaders.

The solution (one that does not require any legislative or regulatory steps): superintendents will be paid on a sliding scale — the smaller the district, the smaller the salary. It was reported that 366 of the current 591 would be getting pay cuts. In addition, state government will negotiate the pay for the leaders of the 16 largest districts. There would also be caps for assistant superintendents and business administrators.

Christie’ s response when asked about the possibility of superintendents leaving the state: "If that’s the sole reason they’re here, then goodbye."

It just might be that Christie sees too much red tape to reducing the number of school districts (New Jersey also has tried unsuccessfully to eliminate townships), so this is a money-saving alternative.

At Least They’re Not Messing with the Days on Task

Education funding is always a contentious issue at the Statehouse, but the battle is rising to a new level this time around (as we have heard over and over and over). Past disagreements largely centered on the level of spending increases. With fewer dollars available, it’s a case of where are they going to go — to students or districts.

The budget is filled with education measures beyond the funding fight. One issue thankfully not on the table, at least for now, is minimizing the 180-day school year. Chamber education expert Derek Redelman reported it this way following the end of the regular session.

In recent months, we have heard from a new president, from a new secretary of education, from a film comparing Carmel students to those in India and China (see here) and from multiple other sources that American students spent far too little time in school. So it was a bit shocking to see at least six different bills filed this year that would have allowed Indiana’s school year to be shortened.

The Chamber fought these bills vigourously and most never even got a hearing. The one bill that did get a hearing was talked about by House Education Chairman Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis), who acknowledged that a reduced school year would be most harmful to the low-income students he represents.

Things all changed when Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced mid-session that the Indiana Department of Education would enforce current law and would no longer allow schools to count parent-teacher conferences and professional development days as student instructional time. He also announced much less flexibility in the waiver of inclement weather days. It was a decision backed by 20 years of Indiana law and one the Indiana Chamber applauded loudly, but it was also widely criticized by House Democrats, who vowed to block it through legislation. Though Rep. Porter offered the legislation intended to accomplish that goal, it ultimately failed.

Unemployment ‘Fix’ Still Needs Fixed

The fundamental debate in trying to pass a new state budget is whether education funding should be for districts or students. Unfortunately, it’s not a new debate. Chamber education expert Derek Redelman can — and will — go in-depth on that topic, one that has been around throughout his 20-plus years in Indiana education policy.

Also unfortunate is that lawmakers are not taking advantage of the opportunity to right their biggest wrong of the regular session — the unemployment insurance tax increase that employers are telling us will simply force more layoffs. You can calculate for yourself how the largest business tax increase in state history will impact your organization and why it doesn’t solve the shortfall that is approaching $1 billion in loans from Washington.

It’s not big businesses vs. small businesses. It’s not employers vs. employees. It’s bad public policy — one that will require a true solution sooner rather than later.