Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Kyle Stokes

Kyle Stokes joined WFIU/WTIU in 2011 as an education reporter and blogger for StateImpact Indiana, a collaborative reporting venture between WFIU and NPR News. He comes to Bloomington from Columbia, Mo., where he was a producer and reporter for NPR member station KBIA-FM and NBC affiliate KOMU-TV. Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., Stokes is a proud graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and an even prouder Minnesota Twins fan.

  • Email: kdstokes@indiana.edu

What’s At Stake For Indiana Businesses In Lawmakers’ Equipment Tax Debate

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Draper, Inc., in Spiceland is the largest private employer in Henry County, manufacturing various equipment for schools.

The Draper, Inc., plant in Spiceland might have been the birthplace of your school’s gymnasium.

The manufacturer actually makes all kinds of equipment for schools, from window shades to projection systems. Look one way and you’ll see a basketball hoop hanging from the ceiling. Look another direction, and you’ll see wall padding stacked on a pallet.

“I’ll sell a lot of these to Saudi Arabia,” says Nate LaMar, who manages international sales.

Any equipment Draper employees use to make these products in its 400,000 square foot plant in Spiceland — from staple guns to forklifts — is subject to Indiana’s business personal property tax. It’s not just manufacturing equipment; office supplies and computers are taxed too.

LaMar says he sees both sides of state lawmakers’ current debate over whether to cut that tax, which generates $1 billion in revenues for local governments. In addition to his work at Draper, LaMar is also president of the Henry County Council. If lawmakers totally eliminated the tax, the county’s budget takes a $391,000 hit.

Though neither of the bills General Assembly members approved last week amount to a total elimination of the business personal property tax, school districts still stand to lose more than $170 million from funds already bruised by the state’s property tax caps. Continue Reading

Video: How Indiana’s Property Tax Caps Impact School Districts’ Bottom Lines

Unlike our last video on school finance, this post (sadly) does not contain barnyard animal noises.

But we at StateImpact decided to venture into Internet Video-land once again to explain why — despite the fact that we’ve discussed them at great length — Indiana’s property tax caps are far from old news.

The caps saved Indiana property owners a total of $704 million on their tax bills last year.

But some local governments really miss those revenues. The caps prevented school districts from collecting more than $245 million in property taxes in 2013. That’s a deeper hit than in years’ past; like for all other units of government, losses to the property tax caps are growing. Continue Reading

Map: What’s At Stake For Indiana School Districts In The Business Tax Debate

Data: Indiana Legislative Services Agency

This map shows how much each Indiana school district would lose if lawmakers were to eliminate the personal property tax — a tax on business equipment. The darker the school corporation’s shade, the bigger the projected hit of the tax’s elimination would be. The proposals General Assembly members are currently considering, however, would not eliminate the tax immediately or completely.

Indiana school districts collectively stand to lose an additional $150 million in local revenues if General Assembly members were to completely eliminate the state’s business personal property tax.

That said, none of the proposals state lawmakers are considering — including the one Indiana House members approved Thursday — are as complete or as immediate as cutting the state’s tax on business equipment altogether. The tax generates $1 billion in revenues annually for local governments and schools.

“I’m talking about tax reform, not tax cuts,” Gov. Mike Pence wrote in a letter to the state’s mayors sent Wednesday, saying he supports phasing out the tax “in a way that does not unduly burden local governments.”

Still, the projections from Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency illustrate the stakes of the debate, showing more than 130 school corporations would see their losses to Indiana’s property tax caps double if the business personal property tax were to go away entirely. (We explain how here.)

We put those numbers into map form above. The largest projected losses are in darker shades of blue. Click on your district to see how much property tax revenue the district would lose if lawmakers were to eliminate the business equipment tax completely. Continue Reading

Seven Essential Questions About Indiana’s Property Tax Caps, Answered

Cars were moving at speeds well below the school zone limit near Franklin Township Middle School East back in August 2011, after steep busing fees impelled many parents to drive their kids to school. School officials began charging the fee after property tax caps cut off revenue from the district's transportation fund.

Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana

Cars were moving at speeds well below the school zone limit near Franklin Township Middle School East in August 2011, after steep busing fees impelled many parents to drive their kids to school. School officials began charging the fee after property tax caps cut off revenue from the district's transportation fund.

A bad riddle for you: what do the costs of owning a home have in common with school buses, technology upgradessmall-town schools, school closures, referendums and special elections?

The answer we’re looking for: property tax caps.

Though voters enshrined the limits on property tax collections in the state’s constitution in 2010, we at StateImpact hear a lot about them — they kept $245 million in revenues out of schools’ budgets and in property owners’ pockets last year.

With property taxes back in the spotlight and their impact on district budgets growing, we thought we’d put together a few more excerpts of our interview with Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer that will — we hope — help you make sense of the issue. (Check out his explanation of the state’s business personal property tax.)

Alright, let’s start at the beginning. What is a ‘property tax cap’?

It’s a limit on the amount of taxes local governments can collect on a piece of property. Continue Reading

Ten Essential Questions About Indiana’s Business Property Tax, Answered

Gov. Mike Pence, right, has advocated for a phase-out of the state's tax on business equipment, known as the business personal property tax.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Gov. Mike Pence, right, has advocated for a phase-out of the state's tax on business equipment, known as the business personal property tax.

With the Indiana General Assembly considering yet another measure that could impact schools’ property tax revenues, StateImpact sat down with a man who understands the state’s tax system better than almost anybody: Purdue agricultural economist Larry DeBoer.

We asked DeBoer to talk us through the complexities of the property tax system, and we put together a few snippets of our lengthy conversation with him below — we hope it helps put the state’s property tax caps and lawmakers’ debate over the business personal property tax into context.

So back up for just a second, and let me get this straight: We ask businesses to pay a tax on equipment they already own?

That’s right — any equipment “used in the production of income or held as an investment,” according to the state. “We’re not talking the land” used for a business, says DeBoer. “We’re not talking about buildings, we’re talking mostly manufacturing and utility equipment inside those factory and utility buildings. Then we’re talking about computers and all sorts of other things that businesses will have.” Continue Reading

Trib-Star: Small-Town Group Making Strides To Keep Dugger’s Schools Open

Supporters of keeping Union Junior-Senior High School and Dugger Elementary open listen during a Northeast School Corporation Board of Trustees meeting.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Supporters of keeping Union Junior-Senior High School and Dugger Elementary open listen during a Northeast School Corporation Board of Trustees meeting.

Following the Northeast School Corporation board’s vote to close the two schools in Dugger, residents of the tiny town south of Terre Haute are putting together a serious bid to keep the schools open. Reporter Sue Laughlin of The Tribune-Star has the story:

They’ve also hired a consultant — Thomas Peeler of Small School Solutions LLP —  and are pursuing two possible options: a public charter school or redistricting two townships (Cass and Jefferson) out of NESC so that Dugger would have its own public school corporation.

“We’re pursuing parallel paths,” said Greg Ellis, who was president of Save Union High School. The preferred path is for the Dugger community to form its own public school district.

The group has presented two proposals to NESC officials, he said. Continue Reading

Who Teaches In Head Start Programs — And Why They Leave Their Jobs

Head Start teacher Kathy Ammerman helps a student put together a puzzle.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Head Start teacher Kathy Ammerman helps a student put together a puzzle.

As we’ve written before, preschool programs hoping to keep well-qualified teachers in their employ face a critical problem: K-12 education pays better.

Federally-funded Head Start programs, at least, have made strides on the “well-qualified” front. Megan Carolan crunched the numbers for Ed Central and found that of the more-than 45,000 “lead teachers” in Head Start, roughly half hold BA’s in education — up from about 28 percent five years ago.

But she also found that one-quarter of the 5,900 staffers who left Head Start programs stayed in education, leaving for “higher compensation… in the same field.”

That tracks with what early education experts have told us in the past — and that, Carolan writes, is a problem:

Continue Reading

State Board Approves A-F Grades For School Corporations

The State Board of Education approved 2012-13 district letter grades Wednesday.

Indiana Department of Education

The State Board of Education approved 2012-13 district letter grades Wednesday.

Nearly two-thirds of Indiana school corporations received the same letter grade ranking in 2013 as they did in 2012.

State Board of Education members approved the grades at this morning’s brief business meeting. The number of districts receiving A’s remained virtually unchanged from last year, though more school corporations received B’s in 2013 than 2012.

“This is another indicator of the quality of education in Indiana,” said board member David Freitas during Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s moving in the right direction.”

Only board member Andrea Neal voted against approving the grades.

The grades rate a district’s overall performance but do not carry penalties under the state’s accountability system the way individual school letter grades do. Those rankings were released last month.

No school district improved or fell more than two letter grades. All five corporations that slipped two rankings went from A’s to C’s. There were 13 districts that improved two letters — most of those saw their grades jump from C’s to A’s.

You can find your school district’s 2013 letter grade here. Continue Reading

Breaking Down The Latest Cost Estimate For Indiana’s Proposed Pre-K Pilot

Looking down Market Street from the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the Indiana Statehouse.

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Looking down Market Street from the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the Indiana Statehouse.

A proposed pilot program to offer preschool vouchers to low-income families in five Indiana counties would cost nearly $25 million per year if state lawmakers approve it, according to one estimate from General Assembly staffers.

Fiscal analysts at the Legislative Services Agency had estimated a very similar proposal the Indiana House passed during the 2013 session would have cost $7 million for 1,000 students.

The bill House lawmakers marked up Monday does not specify how many students could take part in the pilot program or which five counties would take part.

That may explain how the cost estimate tripled between last year and this year for two proposed programs that are practically identical. Continue Reading

Politico: Common Core Rollback Is Just The Start For Some Conservative Groups

Opponents of the Common Core, a set of nationally-crafted academic standards, rallied at the statehouse before a January Senate Education Committee hearing.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Opponents of the Common Core, a set of nationally-crafted academic standards, rallied at the statehouse before a January Senate Education Committee hearing.

Opposition to the Common Core has come from all points on the ideological spectrum — as a commenter on our Facebook page pointed out.

But as Politico reported last week, it’s big-dollar conservative donors who’ve come to the financial aid of groups formed to oppose the the nationally-crafted academic standards.

And at least one group sees sees rolling back the Common Core as the first step in a broader education fight, as Stephanie Simon reports:

A draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure. Continue Reading

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