Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Stephanie Wiechmann

State Announces Pre-K Expansion Counties

Indiana's preschool pilot program would expand to 15 new counties and include a controversial option for online preschool under legislation heading to the governor's desk. (Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

(Barnaby Wasson/Flickr)

Low-income families in 15 counties will soon be able to use state money to send their 4-year-old children to preschool. Indiana’s first pre-K pilot included five counties – some urban and some rural.

One of the additional counties is Delaware, where Carrie Bale runs the By5 Early Childhood Initiative. She says while she’s glad for the new opportunity, the expansion includes a new requirement that could exclude families that need the service.

“In the first round three years ago in the five original counties, it was an income qualifier – and that was the only qualifier,” Bale says. “With this new round coming out, it’s an income qualifier of 127 percent of poverty, plus the parents have to be working or going to school. That’s going to be our challenge.”

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Muncie Takeover Bill Passes General Assembly, But Delays Action

Teachers, students, and the community rallied for the school in February.

Teachers, students, and the community rallied for the school in February. (photo credit: Indiana Public Radio)

Indiana lawmakers in both houses on Friday night approved a bill that could still allow a state takeover of Muncie Community Schools because of its financial crisis.  But the final version postpones a takeover for several months and gives the district the option of working to turn itself around.

Under the final version of the bill, Muncie is essentially put on probation.  If Gov. Eric Holcomb signs the measure, Muncie will be designated as a “fiscally impaired school corporation.”  An interim emergency manager will be appointed to make financial decisions until December. This gives the district time to enact the deficit reduction plan it passed last week.  And the bill says that emergency manager could actually be MCS Superintendent Steve Baule.

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Muncie Schools State Takeover Bill Passes House

(Peter Balonon-Rosen, Tony Sandleben/IPB News)

(Peter Balonon-Rosen, Tony Sandleben/IPB News)

The House has approved a bill that gives the state permission to take over control of Muncie Community Schools and its financial crisis.

Senate Bill 567 was originally designed to help Gary Community School Corporation come out of a $19 million budget deficit. This week, a House committee added Muncie Community Schools to the bill, saying a state report showed an $18.6 million deficit.

Local lawmakers and district Superintendent Steve Baule had asked the committee to be allowed to fix things themselves without state takeover. On the bill’s second reading on the House floor Wednesday night, an attempt to remove MCS from the bill led by Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) failed.

On the House floor Thursday, House bill sponsor Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) says he added Muncie to the bill because of its long-term debt.

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Muncie Schools Added to Bill Despite District Opposition

Muncie Central. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Muncie Central High School. The House Ways and Means committee voted Monday to include Muncie Community Schools in a bill that provides financial assistance for struggling districts. (Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

An Indiana House committee has voted to amend a bill that if passed would allow a state takeover of Muncie Community Schools to right its financial crisis.

The House Ways and Means Committee added the Muncie school district to a bill that already passed the Senate. It would allow a state takeover of Gary Community School Corporation, for financial reasons, and Committee Chair Republican Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) extended it to include Muncie Community Schools.

“There are a lot of school corporations out there that concern me greatly,” Brown says. “But Muncie and Gary concern me the most.”

According to the State Board of Accounts, Gary’s deficit is nearly $20 million.  Muncie’s, factoring in all debt obligation, is $18.6 million.

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Muncie School District To Stop Offering Transportation Services

Muncie Schools will discontinue bus services because of budget problems.

Muncie Schools will discontinue bus services because of budget problems. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Representatives of the local school district in Muncie have voted to stop bus transportation for area students in 2018 – the soonest state law will allow.

But school board members say they don’t actually want to stop school buses from running. The board says it’s sending a message to the Statehouse to fix a state law that’s hurting some Hoosier schools.

A unanimous vote to end school bus transportation in Muncie came with no boos, insults, or impassioned pleas from the public Tuesday night, because as Muncie Community Schools Superintendent Steven Baule puts it, everyone knows the problem lies with the state.

“It was really a law set up to solve a problem that wasn’t a problem,” Baule says.

Baule is talking about protected taxes, a law passed in 2013 by state lawmakers to make sure no school with outstanding debt defaults on its bond payments. Money must be put into the debt services portion of a school’s budget first, and the rest parceled out to remaining portions. That’s left Muncie with an almost 90 percent loss in its transportation fund.

The protected taxes law is one reason district’s are struggling to fund transportation, in addition to the property tax caps that were added to the state constitution a few years ago. But after the law went into place, the General Assembly created waivers for districts hardest hit.

How does a district receives the waiver?

“You’re impacted by 10 percent or more. In other words, you’re going to lose 10 percent or more of your funding, specifically for transportation,” says Dennis Costerison, Executive Director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

But the news from Muncie shows even with these waivers, districts are struggling to provide services like transportation that have typically been provided.

The waivers expire next year, so Muncie and other affected school districts will no longer have this reprieve unless the General Assembly takes action.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, says he would like to see the legislature take up the issue and modify the protected tax law.

“This is a bigger deal than we thought it would be, and I think the initial ideas here were well intended, but you know, this happens sometimes.” Lanane said. “There are unintended consequences and we shouldn’t be afraid to address it and I hope we will next year.”

Lanane says it will likely take a rally of school districts around the state for lawmakers to take up the issue of protected taxes in future sessions. Because Indiana law says a school district must give parents three years’ notice before stopping bus service, Muncie has until 2018 to convince other districts to make the same statement.

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