State Public School Funding — How Does Monroe County Stack Up?

I along with other local government officials from around the state just had the opportunity to hear Dr. Larry DeBoer, professor of agricultural economics and renowned expert on local government finance, give his annual update on the Indiana State Budget (for budget years 2015-2017), sponsored by the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service. Here are the handouts from Dr. DeBoer’s presentation: Deboer State Budget 2015-2017 Presentation.

While the entire presentation is incredibly well-done and invaluable for anyone interested in understanding discussions in the media and in the statehouse on state budgetary issues, I wanted to call attention in particular to his discussion on K-12 funding, on pages 13-15 in his presentation, and compare his numbers overall to Monroe County’s in particular.

I’m not going to go into the long and tortuous history of school funding in Indiana. However, I recommend that anyone and everyone read a blog posting that appeared in Chalkbeat Indiana in January: The basics of school funding in Indiana: Difficulty defining fairness.

In brief, funding for the operations (i.e., general fund) of public school corporations is provided by the State of Indiana. Other funds, including transportation, school bus replacement, capital projects, debt service, and pension debt are still provided entirely by local property taxes. In addition, communities that have passed operating referendums (such as for the Monroe County Community School Corporation) also contribute local property taxes as well.

The amount of funding that the state provides to local school corporations is made up of three parts:

  • the basic tuition support (which used to vary wildly from school corporation to school corporation based on the history of funding for the corporation, but are now varies much less, through a process called “transition to foundation revenue”). Eventually the goal is to have every school corporation receive the same basic tuition support per pupil.
  • categorical grants, which include the:
    •  honors grant (for each student who received an academic honors diploma or a Core 40 diploma with technical honors),
    • special education grant (based on the count of students enrolled in special education programs)
    • career and technical education grant (based on the number of students enrolled in career and technical education programs that are addressing areas of labor market demand)
    • full day kindergarten grant
  • complexity grant, which is distributed to schools based on the numbers of low-income students who attend. This grant used to be based on the number of students who participated in the Federal free and reduced lunch program; however, it is now based on the number of students who receive textbook assistance (a state measure, rather than a federal measure).

As Dr. DeBoer’s graph on page 14 shows (and I have reproduced below), almost all the overall variation in school funding per pupil is now based on the complexity grant. The basic tuition support and categorical grants are largely even from the highest-funded to the lowest-funded public school corporations in Indiana.

DeBoer School Funding 2015

So my real purpose in writing here was simply to try to show where we are here in Monroe County with respect to state funding. Dr. DeBoer was kind enough to provide me with the raw dataset that he received from the Indiana Department of Education. Below are the funding amounts for the Basic Tuition Support, Categorical Grants, and the Complexity Grant per pupil for the three school systems in Monroe County: the two traditional public school corporations, Monroe County Community School Corporation and Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corporation, and the Bloomington Project School, our only charter school in Monroe County.

I also included the school corporations with the highest and lowest per-pupil funding in the state for comparison, as well as the average and median total funding amounts per pupil. Interestingly, although our relatively low complexity grants for our schools in Monroe County put us below the average and median per pupil funding overall in the state, within Monroe County our complexity grants are relatively similar, and our categorical grants actually separate us a bit more. In addition, one can see here that the Bloomington Project School has the lowest complexity grant in the county (again, based on number of students eligible for textbook assistance) and MCCSC has the highest, although RBB’s is very similar.

Per Pupil 2015 State Funding in Monroe County
Per Pupil 2015 State Funding in Monroe County

Finally, I essentially re-created Dr. DeBoer’s stacked bar chart (above) to show where the three Monroe County school corporations stood visually, compared to the rest of the state. Like Dr. DeBoer, I excluded charter schools from the chart, EXCEPT that I included the Bloomington Project School.

2015 State Funding Per Pupil for Indiana School Corporations, with Monroe County Systems Labeled
2015 State Funding Per Pupil for Indiana School Corporations, with Monroe County Systems Labeled

Hope someone finds this visual representation of where state K-12 funding for Monroe County systems stack up useful. And thank you to Dr. DeBoer for providing his state funding dataset.

Update 2015-02-27

A reader asked for more detail on the categorical grants, and wanted to find out if the special education grant explained the larger per-pupil funding received by the Bloomington Project School. Indeed, that is the case. Here is the detail:

2015 Categorical Grants for Monroe County School Systems
2015 Categorical Grants for Monroe County School Systems

And here is the same data in a stacked bar chart form:

2015 Categorical Grants for Monroe County School Systems
2015 Categorical Grants for Monroe County School Systems

This also makes intuitive sense, since parents often choose charter schools because their children are experiencing difficulties in the traditional public school corporations (indeed I made that choice myself as a parent for my son for 7th and 8th grades).

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