Schools face shortfall with remote learning

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Public schools rely on enrollment numbers for proportionate funding each calendar year, dictated by Indiana legislators who meet annually to solve a number of issues in public education.

During the 2020-21 term, parents have had the chance to opt for remote learning methods, with some choosing homeschooling and online learning academies separate from public institutions, such as Crawfordsville Community Schools, in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But with enrollment numbers down, largely due to these alternative options, funding legislation needs to be adjusted, Crawfordsville Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said Thursday.

“I wondered whether we should increase the budget for the Education Fund,” Bowling said at the public meeting, during which permission to advertise the 2021-22 budget came into focus. “The only reason that I went ahead with that is because things are pretty murky right now in terms of what’s going to happen at the state (level).”

At the start of the fall term this year, Crawfordsville Schools is down roughly 90 students district-wide to other learning options, which translates to more than $500,000 lost for the corporation.

Others, such as the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, are set to lose even more.

“They’re down 400 kids — millions of dollars,” Bowling said, “There’s going to have to be legislation to address this issue of the 85% funding for students who don’t attend in person for at least half the school year.”

A “real hot button issue,” 85% funding refers to funds received for students who have chosen full remote learning through the district, learning at home every day of the week as opposed to participating in the every-other-day hybrid model adopted by the district early in August.

And the issue is faced elsewhere across the state, he added, saying even a 3% decrease in enrollment statewide should force legislators to adjust funding for the pandemic.

“The whole the-dollar-follows-the-child thing was meant to take place in a competitive environment where everything was working — it wasn’t for COVID, it was for when people could make choices about in-person instruction,” Bowling said. “I don’t think anybody, when they were creating that system, was thinking, ‘Well, we might have a pandemic and bunch of people are going to homeschool and we’re going to penalize the schools for that.’”

But new legislation in uncertain, he said.

“Our legislators have been so much fighting about this 85% thing,” he said. “If we’ve had a 3% enrollment drop across the state, that’s going to be a bloodbath in terms of teachers in the spring and staffing levels. I don’t think the legislators have quite wrapped their heads around that yet.”

However, Bowling said the Crawfordsville district can withstand the lack of funding for the time being.

“I don’t want you to get too nervous about our funding,” he said to board members. “We’re in nice shape in terms of our Rainy Day Fund; we can weather this year, for sure.”

The Education Fund budget, which was approved for advertisement Thursday, sits at $16,826,835, an increase of about 5% from last year.

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