Aug 9, 2023 - News

Textbook funding shortfall threatens teacher raises

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some central Indiana school districts say the money the state gave them to cover textbook costs isn't enough.

Driving the news: At the behest of Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law earlier this year prohibiting schools from charging families for books and other curricular materials.

Why it matters: A shortfall in textbook funding could cause school districts to cut back on other classroom resources or teacher raises.

Catch up fast: Prior to the 2023 legislative session, Indiana was one of eight states that allowed schools to charge families a textbook fee.

  • In his State of the State address in January, Holcomb called on lawmakers to end the practice and give schools the money to cover the cost — taking the burden off of families.
  • Lawmakers added a $160 million line item to the budget for a new curricular materials fund, based on the average of what districts had been charging families, as reported to the Department of Education.

Of note: The state was already covering the cost for students that qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.

What's happening: The $160 million works out to roughly $150 per student.

  • Jeff Butts, superintendent of Wayne Township Schools, told Axios that's probably enough to cover the costs for books and devices for elementary school students but doesn't come close for some upper grade students in classes with specialized materials like band or dual credit courses that utilize college-level texts.
  • The district's shortfall is around $1 million this school year, which it will either have to cover or cut expenses elsewhere.

What he's saying: "The state continues to push us to increase teacher salaries and reduce class sizes, yet we're having to take some dollars we might have originally planned on using in negotiation towards curricular materials," Butts said.

Meanwhile, the gap for Brownsburg schools is about half a million dollars.

  • ​​"It's really unfortunate," said superintendent Jim Snapp, "because I think what was a good idea — and it certainly is to help parents — is going to impact the level of instruction we can have in the classroom."
  • Superintendents at Hamilton Heights and Greenfield-Central Schools told FOX59 they were also facing shortfalls.

The other side: Erin Murphy, spokesperson for Holcomb, said the law needs a chance to work and noted it was passed alongside other major investments made in K-12 this past session.

Yes, but: More than one-third of those new dollars are going toward the expanded private school voucher program.

The intrigue: Zac Jackson, the state budget director, said he feels the state has fully funded the initiative.

  • He said his challenge to schools that say the money isn't enough is to question why they were passing on such high costs to families in the first place.

What's next: The Senate's chief budget writer, Mishawaka Republican Ryan Mishler, told Axios he hadn't heard from any school districts concerned about the appropriation.

  • "Anytime you take an average, you're going to have winners and losers," he said. "Schools that have a history of charging parents for a lot of things are probably going to lose a little bit. Those that don't will probably gain a little bit."
  • Mishler said he'd be willing to consider legislation clarifying what falls under "curricular material" and what districts may still charge fees for.

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