Indiana’s waiver battle- it’s not about the money

July 10, 2014 3 Comments

The battle between the State Board of Education (SBOE) and Superintendent Glenda Ritz over Indiana’s No Child Left Behind waiver has turned ugly. While the rumored consequence of the loss of Title 1 funding has everyone chomping at the bit to get the waiver signed, sealed and delivered, the federal government can’t, by law, withhold funding if Indiana loses the waiver. The fear mongering techniques being used by both sides is nothing but a game of smoke and mirrors to garner support for the waiver and politicize the issue.

At the SBOE meeting held yesterday, members of the board and Supt. Ritz publicly sparred over who did- or didn’t do- things that put Indiana’s NCLB waiver on conditional status.  Although, they didn’t agree on much,  most board members and Supt. Ritz did agree that keeping the waiver is THE most important education issue facing our state. Unfortunately, no one has ever qualified why that is.

At the June SBOE meeting, Andrea Neal asked the Board if the waiver was worth fighting for, which seemed a reasonable question to ask considering the trouble it is causing our state.  However, there was no reply from Glenda Ritz and a short lecture from board members Brad Oliver and Gordon Hendry about how losing the waiver could place Title 1 funding  in jeopardy and the devastating effect that would have on schools. However, they both spoke in vague terms and offered no specifics.  At this point in time, all concerned parties need to be supplied with the pertinent facts and details regarding what the consequences would be, if any, to schools.

While both sides make losing the waiver sound very ominous, in reality the consequences to the state are far less than the public has been led to believe. Indiana receives Title 1 funding from the US Department of Education to help the state’s most needy students. If schools receiving Title 1 funding don’t meet state achievement goals, the school districts must set aside 20% of their Title 1 allocation. The 20% set aside must be spent on two things: 1) transportation for students who want to leave a failing school to transfer to another public school and 2) free tutoring for students attending the low-performing school.

The waiver Indiana received removes the requirement that the 20% set aside must be spent on these two services and places new requirements on how the money will be spent. If Indiana lost their waiver, districts would again be required to spend 20% of the  Title 1 allocation on school transfers and tutoring in failing schools, but losing the waiver doesn’t mean the loss of single dime of federal funding.  Schools would revert to spending  the 20% on tutoring and transfers, not the newly established federal parameters set forth in the waiver. A rarely discussed consequence of keeping the waiver is that parents of students in failing schools will no longer have the option of transferring to a higher-performing school.

The amount of money contingent on the waiver (the 20% set aside) is minimal in comparison to the amount the state spends on education. The 2014 budget for education was set at $8,759,048,443.00.  The Title 1 money Indiana would “lose control” over amounts to $46,517,512.46 and represents only .5% of what Indiana spends on K-12 education.  Are we really wasting this much time and energy arguing over how we spend less than 1% of our budget? Is our state willing to comply with expensive federal mandates required by the waiver to avoid spending federal dollars on transfers for poor children to leave failing schools and tutoring?

This battle simply isn’t about the money- or the children.

To better clarify what the consequences of losing the waiver would be at the school level, the table below shows the amount of the 20% set aside for five Indiana district’s compared to their overall budget. Even in districts like IPS, with a large population of Title 1 eligible students, the amount of funding controlled by the waiver is only 2.4% of what they spend. Considering that last year IPS didn’t realize they had an extra $48.4 million in their budget and wound up with an $8.4 million surplus instead of the projected $30 million deficit, shows that the $6.5  million dollars in set-aside funding is not worth the battle being fought.

District Total Operating Budget Set-aside per district Set-aside percent of total budget
Washington Township $124,000,000.00 $640,000.00                   0.52%
Hamilton Southeastern 150,000,000.00 $86,022.00                    0.06%
Carmel Clay Schools $102,000,000.00 $87,384.00                    0.09%
Indianapolis Public Schools $264,000,000.00 $6,500,000.00                    2.46%
Elkhart Community Schools $150,000,000.00 $981,000.00                    0.65%

A cease-fire needs to be called in the battle over Indiana’s waiver. Both sides need to sit down and perform a cost-benefit analysis and publicly report the costs for compliance under the waiver compared to the benefits for students in the classroom. It would prove that keeping the waiver is a bad deal for students and taxpayers.

Comments (3)

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  1. Heidi Sampson says:

    Excellent article – clear and precise. Thank you for taking the time to clarify the murkiness that stirs around the whole Title 1 funding and the fear mongering that goes on.

  2. JaKell Sullivan says:

    Erin, The voice of reason always prevails. Great work bringing common sense to this crucial issue.

  3. MJ Kurdys says:

    Erin, please send this to the Star Editorial Board!

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