The recently passed Indiana budget is expected to affect future funding for local school corporations differently.

Lawmakers passed the biennial budget Wednesday, April 29, spending an additional $466 million on education and applying it to corporations based on enrollment. The Legislature, however, decided to shrink funding by $250 million for the "complexity index," an indicator of poverty, which gives more money to schools with a higher percentage of low-income students.

The indicator itself changed, too. The state will now base the amount of complexity dollars on the number of families that use food stamps, welfare payments or foster care, instead of on the number of students receiving free or reduced lunches.

Because of that, many schools statewide will start to receive less complexity funding beginning next year.

The state projects a decrease of about 20 percent in complexity dollars, or about $1.05 million, for Logansport Community Schools for 2016, according to data compiled by the Legislative Services Agency. Despite the funding loss, the "complexity index" for Logansport is estimated to slightly rise, as the indicator of poverty remains high.

Logansport Superintendent Michele Starkey said many people in the area already sign up for assistance programs, such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, so the index shouldn't differ much from the number of students with free or reduced lunches.

As of March 2015, 2,260 Cass County families use food stamps and 61 families receive TANF, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

The state also estimates that Logansport schools will receive more state funding overall, with an additional $859,231 by 2017, much of it based on static school enrollment. 

Starkey said even though the corporation is pleased overall with a projected increase in funding, the amount of money for special education is estimated to fall by nearly $363,000 in 2016. She said that affected the entire Logansport Area Join Special Services Cooperative, which services nine area school corporations.

"That part will be a big struggle for our cooperative," Starkey said.

In Carroll County, Delphi Community School Corp. is projected to lose about $576,000 by 2017, mainly due to the loss of about half of its complexity dollars by 2017. 

Superintendent Ralph Walker said the corporation has about 65 percent of its students, or about 750, on free or reduced lunches, and added that not as many families in the town use assistance programs.

Twenty-six Carroll County families receive TANF, as of March 2015, and 620 households use food stamps, according to the IFSSA.

Delphi schools have also seen their enrollment decline through the past few years, Walker said. According to Indiana Department of Education data, the corporation has lost about 210 students since 2010.

Walker said many Delphi families have been moving closer to where they work, mainly Lafayette, in larger cities with more amenities and lower utilities and gas prices. He said families are "much more communal" than in the past.

"It’s very difficult for the bedroom communities of the larger cities like [Delphi is] of Lafayette to keep our people," Walker said.

His biggest concern with less funding is keeping teachers in the corporation, and in the field of education, because teacher salaries have little chance of increasing.

"We’re going to have to up our game on recruitment and trying to keep teachers here," Walker said.

The state budget also projects less funding for Southeastern Schools over the next few years, a loss of about $40,000 by 2017. Superintendent Trudie Hedrick said that's due to lower estimated enrollment.

Throughout the past decade, Hedrick said, Southeastern's enrollment has decreased, so she said the state bases its low enrollment project on that.

However, she said from September 2014 to February 2015, the corporation lost only two students. Historically, she said, the schools lost 20 to 30 students in that time frame.

"We’re looking at hopefully growth this next year," Hedrick said. "So if our [enrollment] stays up where we’d like it to, then we will not see a decrease in dollars."

Hedrick said she believes Lewis Cass Jr.-Sr. High School increasing its course offerings and the corporation heading to a one-to-one technology initiative next year are two reasons why Southeastern hasn't lost many students recently.

Funding for the honors program is projected to increase by $4,000 in two years, she said, and special education funding should go up $42,000 by 2017. Hedrick also said the corporation's budget is "getting back in line."

"We have a lot of thing going right with Southeastern at this point in time," Hedrick said.

The state also projects Caston School Corp., Carroll Consolidated School Corp., Pioneer Regional School Corp. and Eastern Pulaski Community School Corp. will all have an increase in their total funding.

Starkey said despite all of the projected numbers from the state budget, schools won't know what will actually happen until the enrollment is counted at the beginning of each school year.

"A lot of it is estimates," Starkey said. "You don’t actually know until the money comes in, and it’s still all driven by student count. If your student count goes down, your money’s going down."

Reach Ben Middelkamp at 574-732-5117 or ben.middelkamp@pharostribune.com

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Ben Middelkamp is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He covers local education news as well as weekend events. He can be reached at ben.middelkamp@pharostribune.com or by phone at 574-732-5117.

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