Gov. Eric Holcomb is pitching an idea to calm concerns about school funding, but school leaders are doubtful it will truly clear up the problem and say it could make things like navigating teacher pay even more challenging.
Holcomb’s plan would delay when students are counted, something he said would keep funding stable through the fall. His suggestion comes after a top lawmaker warned schools of possible cuts if they only offer online instruction this fall.
Martinsville schools are starting online, but Superintendent Jay Arthur says, student enrollment and the funding it determines also shapes other critical school decisions that rely on the budget – which means delaying the student count day could make things like teacher pay complicated.
“How do you negotiate something that you don’t know and don’t have a final answer on?” he said.
Arthur says without changing a number of statutory requirements that rely on the enrollment and funding data gathered on student count day, school leaders have to do guesswork.
“This puts us in a precarious situation not knowing what our budgets are actually going to be and what the money available will be to have conversations with our teacher union about where we’re going to land on bargaining,” he said.
State leaders assured schools in June they would support full funding of schools during the pandemic. Arthur said warnings of possible cuts after schools have already started to reopen is “frustrating,” and casts doubt on whether or not schools truly will receive 100 percent of the funding they estimated they would this year.
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Arthur said decisions made by lawmakers in the past make him question whether the General Assembly will approve full funding for public schools when they return for the 2021 legislative session.
“It is really hard to think forward that promises being made right now would actually come to fruition,” he said.
Arthur said instead of pushing back the student count date, the state should call a special legislative session to answer the funding questions raised by lawmakers, and offer schools much needed clarity – and stability – during the pandemic.