Proposed IN House funding formula not friendly to FWCS budget

A proposed school funding formula by the Indiana House has leaders at Fort Wayne Community Schools concerned about their bottom line.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A proposed school funding formula by the Indiana House has leaders at Fort Wayne Community Schools concerned about their bottom line. The proposal would give the state’s largest school district a much smaller budget increase than the state average.

The proposed budget gives districts an average of a 4.1 percent increase over the next two school years. The increase is due to a substantial increase in the foundation – or base – funding, while making cuts to the complexity portion. The foundation portion is essentially equal for every school district.

The complexity portion of the formula varies from district-to-district, and is determined by the number of low-income students a district has.

“We would gain $14.3 million in foundation funding, if the formula would become law,” said Kathy Friend, the chief financial officer at FWCS. “At the same time, we would lose $14 million in complexity. So for us, it’s about even.”

Funding on the complexity side can go to helping students who have language barriers, don’t speak English as a first language, or special education programs that are funded by other programs.

The statewide average will call for a $302 per student decrease on the complexity side. At FWCS, where 57.8 percent of students are on free lunch, compared to the 41.1 percent state average, the district will lose approximately $462 per student.

“Districts that were heavier in complexity revenue lost more money than they gained,” said Friend, who calculated that her district would only see a $71 increase overall per student under the proposed formula. The formula equals out to a 1.1 percent increase over the next two school years.

Other school districts, especially in urban areas, have the same problem. Indianapolis Public Schools would actually lose money overall under the proposal, where it would see a $661 decrease per student under the change on the complexity side.

“We have needs for those students, so we’re disappointed with how the formula was done,” said Friend. “We would have to use some of our foundation needs for funding some of our complexity needs. I don’t think the formula affects us immediately, but it could change things for us over our long-term plan.”

School leaders have already gotten their concerns to the Indiana Senate, which will come up with its own formula this session. Friend, FWCS Superintendent Dr. Wendy Robinson, and NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel all spoke to the Indiana Senate School Funding Subcommittee.

“We decided we were going to advocate for one another on the funding,” Himsel told NewsChannel 15.  Himsel’s district would see a larger increase than the state average – at more than eight percent, compared to the 4.1 percent state average. “The funding formula is definitely better than what we at NACS have had in the past, but as an Allen County cohort, we would like to see more money coming to the county, no matter which district it is.”

NACS and Southwest Allen County Schools are both among the ten lowest poverty districts in the state, and both would see an eight percent increase in the next two school years.

“I think there has been enough people who have talked about this problem,” said Friend. “I think the Senate will understand our concerns, we realize we aren’t the only school district in the state, and we are hopeful the Senate will list and make some changes.”

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