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Public schools that do not offer an in-person education option could see their budgets cut, despite prior assurances from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state leaders that they would be fully funded.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray sent a letter to school leaders last Thursday – after dozens of districts around the state have already started — to offer “a bit more clarity” about state funding.

Bray wrote in the letter, which is attached in full.

“With some public schools looking to adjust their reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year, there have been many questions as to the level of funding. I want to make sure that school leaders understand the current state law for school funding as it pertains to virtual instruction, and how their school’s FY 2021 funding may be impacted by their reopening decisions.

“Current state law stipulates that schools will receive 85% of the normal foundation funding for any student who receives at least half of his or her instruction virtually. Changing this policy would require legislation to be passed by the General Assembly in our next session.”

According to Indiana Representative Steve Davisson, that is exactly what would need to be done. 

Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, said she was disappointed to receive the letter.

“The fluidity created by this pandemic has already added undue burden to districts who are focused on establishing and maintaining safe learning environments for students and staff,” she said in a release on Friday. “A potential 15 percent cut per pupil is not sustainable at a time districts are working hard to create multiple learning platforms. Penalizing districts who cannot offer onsite instruction leads to dangerous decision making.”

“I urge Governor Holcomb to honor the promise he made to Hoosier children to provide sustainable funding to K-12 schools, by calling a special session to address this concern. We must do better for our children and families,” noted McCormick. 

State Senator Erin Houchin said she supports the original school funding proposal. 

“Like many others, I was surprised to see information in the news that seemed to threaten public school funding amid the COVID crisis,” Houchin wrote on her social media page. 

“I want to make it clear that I oppose cutting funding to schools that choose online options during the pandemic,” noted Houchin.
 
“Rather, I support the ability of local districts to decide what is best for their schools, students, and teachers as they proceed with the upcoming school year. The number one priority for all of us should be the health and safety of our children, educators and their families.”
 
School leaders should not be burdened with financial worries as they navigate how to reopen, she said.
 
“I will continue working with my colleagues, other elected leaders, and our local districts to ensure schools are fully funded during these uncertain times,” said Houchin.

Schools offering only virtual instruction should plan on operating under the state’s current funding policy, Bray said, which only funds students that receive half or more of their instruction online at 85% of traditional students.

Indiana funds schools on a per-student basis, so the policy would mean that school districts offering only virtual instruction would receive about $850 less per student than they were expecting.