Both Bartholomew County school districts are projected to get more money per student under an updated funding formula as Indiana lawmakers funnel millions more into public education.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. could receive an additional $302 per student, and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. could get $131 more per student, according to estimates provided by the state’s Legislative Services Agency.

Those amounts represent about a 5-percent increase for Bartholomew Consolidated and a 2-percent increase for Flat Rock-Hawcreek over current funding levels — about $5,500 per student for BCSC and about $5,700 for FRHC.

But superintendents of both school districts said those are still early estimates and are likely to change — especially with enrollment numbers at risk since there is no longer a limit on how many vouchers the state can issue for students eligible to receive a state-funded scholarship to attend a private or parochial school. 

Bartholomew Consolidated Superintendent John Quick said the estimates, which he called fair and manageable, contain both good and bad news.

  • The good: Full funding for students in full-day kindergarten programs and a higher base amount of funding.
  • The bad: Less money intended to help students from low-income families.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek Superintendent Kathy Griffey said it’s really too early to predict how the district will fare under the proposed budget.

“There are many aspects to rolling out the final formula,” she said, adding that she expects estimates to change multiple times as the Indiana General Assembly finalizes the next biennial budget.

Griffey’s hope, however, is that state lawmakers fully recognize funding public education as a fundamental responsibility of the state, she said. 

Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, indicated Monday that he and his fellow legislators recognize that as part of their duty to Hoosier families.

“I believe we want to send as much money as we can to public education,” he said earlier this week in a local Third House legislation session.

The biennial budget, which passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday 69-29, provides $6.8 billion in 2016 and $6.9 billion for education in 2017, up from $6.7 billion this year. That’s a 2.3 percent increase in school funding each year.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said while he can’t speak for the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will vet the budget before it goes to the full state senate for approval, he thinks members of the General Assembly’s upper house have an appetite for increasing public education as well.

Payment per student effect

The increased state dollars and the updated funding formula increase the base amount that schools receive for each student — an estimated increase of $8.9 million for Bartholomew Consolidated and $453,432 for Flat Rock-Hawcreek.

Both school districts also are poised to receive more money for career and technical education and for honors programs. While BCSC is set to receive more money for special education and Title I, FRHC actually will see a slight decrease in monies for special education and a steep decrease for Title I funding, based on projections.

The new funding formula would result in cuts to the amount of money schools receive to pay for resources that help students from low-income families, due to changes in the complexity index.

Under the current funding formula, the complexity index calculates additional dollars based on a district’s proportion of low-income students who qualify for textbook assistance. That used to be calculated using the number of students enrolled in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. The income guidelines for both programs are the same.

The new formula would no longer would provide extra funding for students who get reduced-priced lunch. That would eliminate extra funding for students whose family income is within 185 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that would mean an annual income of up to $44,123.

Schools would receive additional funding only for students whose family income is within 130 percent of the poverty line — up to $31,005 for a family of four.

A little more than one-third — almost 4,400 — of students in Bartholomew County receive free lunch, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Of that total, 4,086 go to BCSC schools, and 303 attend FRHC schools. That means 35.3 percent of students at Bartholomew Consolidated and 34.9 percent of Flat Rock-Hawcreek students receive free lunches.

An additional 1,029 BCSC students and 87 FRHC students receive reduced-price lunches — 8.9 percent and 10 percent of the districts’ enrollment, respectively.

The proposed budget would translate into at least a 25 percent cut in extra dollars for BCSC and FRHC — about $2.5 million and about $300,000, respectively, over two years — tied to family income levels.

Quick said that doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of complexity in the county. Bartholomew Consolidated has quite a bit of complexity, especially in regard to students who speak English as a second language, he said.

Overall, the estimates reflect a manageable budget, Quick said — and state funds don’t make up the entirety of the school’s yearly budget. 

Griffey, though, said she is cautious about taking the estimates at face value until she can see how the state applies the final funding formula.