Statehouse Republican leaders have boasted that their new two-year state budget includes historic amounts of funding to K-12 schools – that the state has never funded education before to this degree. Unfortunately, this line of rhetoric is misleading and fails to show Hoosiers exactly how underfunded our public schools actually are. Let’s break down the Republicans’ ambiguous statements:
State funding for K-12 schools increases $539 million over the biennium. When you include additional educational money, such as for voucher and charter schools, the amount spent on education rises to $763 million, about 2.5 percent every year. True, this, in terms of nominal dollars, may seem like a large amount of funding dedicated toward educational initiatives. However, when one examines the actual percentage increase, it paints a less rosy picture. The inflation rate in March was 1.9 percent, meaning that the Republicans’ education funding increase barely covers current inflation.
Compared to how the state used to fund public education, this number is alarming. In the 1990s, K-12 education routinely saw yearly funding increases of greater than four percent. The state has also been trying to climb out of an education funding hole spearheaded by former Governor Mitch Daniels. In 2009, the former governor cut over $300 million in public school money. When adjusting for inflation, this year’s apparent “historic” increase still does not meet where the state should be had the $300 million not been cut.
The other elephant in the room? The massive surplus of over $2 billion that the state currently maintains. Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said it best when he remarked, “We worship at this altar of a $2 billion surplus.” It is fiscally irresponsible to maintain such a hefty surplus while areas such as public education are consistently underfunded. Statehouse Republicans are hoarding Indiana taxpayers’ money. Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler himself said on the floor of the Senate that it is hard to say no to everyone, but they must do so to avoid tapping into the state’s reserve money. Interestingly enough, the supermajority didn’t say no to additional corporate tax credits, a swine barn, more flights to Indianapolis, voucher schools, virtual schools and extra money for charter schools – all at the expense of our public schools and their students.
Many Republicans exclaim that half of our budget goes to K-12 funding or that we spend more on education than all other states. Once again, the supermajority uses these misleading tactics to twist the undeniable truth. The state must spend such a high percentage of the budget on education because in 2008 Republicans decided to take the majority of schools’ funding away from local entities to be funneled into the state budget. They, subsequently, resolved to raise the state sales tax to a nation-high rate in order to meet this increased demand. Most other states spend less on a state level because local property taxes pay for a much larger share of school funding. In Indiana, local governments are restricted from funding their own schools due to caps in property taxes put in place by Statehouse Republicans. Spending 50 percent of the state budget on education doesn’t mean Republicans are actually funding it sufficiently or that it’s even necessarily the state’s largest priority.
It’s no surprise that Republicans have to use deceptive tactics to make their budget seem like itis actually working to help our schools. They ignore the past cuts to education funding that still haunt Indiana school districts. They shift more and more money away from public schools in favor of vouchers and charters. They balk at requests to get adequate funding to public schools in favor of maintaining billions in reserve funds. The Republican War on Public Education rages on, but you can be certain that the Indiana Senate Democrats will continue to stand with you as we defend our schools, our teachers and our students.