School funding formula under review

(NETWORK INDIANA)      The next state budget won’t be written for two years. There could be new guidelines by then for divvying up school funding.

Schools get a certain amount per student, plus extra money for what’s called the complexity index — the number of students in foster care or on welfare or food stamps. But budgeters have said they’re concerned that formula doesn’t fully reflect other challenges facing students, including foreign-language speakers, abused or neglected children, or crime-ridden neighborhoods. School groups and teachers’ unions are emphatic in contending it doesn’t.

Amber Seibert, a teacher at Westlane Middle School in Indy’s Washington Township Schools, says the current formula even misses some students it’s designed to cover. She says immigrant or refugee families may not apply for welfare or food stamps for fear of getting caught up in an immigration dragnet, while other students come from homes where both parents are absent, and aren’t fully versed to apply for benefits themselves.

About 30 states rely on the number of students in the federal school lunch program to calculate their equivalents of the complexity index. Indiana scrapped that method four years ago, saying it’s too difficult to get up-to-date numbers.

One possibility a legislative study committee is considering: a multi-tier index reflecting different levels of complexity.