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School Financial Managers Say 2021 Legislative Session Will Make Or Break Their Budgets

By Jeanie Lindsay, IPB News | Published on in Economy, Education, Government, Health
State lawmakers will write the state's next two-year budget starting in January, as leaders project a revenue shortfall of up to $1 billion. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)
State lawmakers will write the state's next two-year budget starting in January, as leaders project a revenue shortfall of up to $1 billion. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Without additional emergency pandemic funding, the upcoming legislative session in Indiana will be critical, especially for schools.

Lawmakers will write the state’s next two-year budget, with an expected loss of revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. School financial managers say they don’t expect increases for education funding in the state’s next budget, because of the pandemic’s impact.

But Westfield-Washington Schools’ CFO Brian Tomamichel said even a funding freeze would help.

“If we can see a freeze in education funding, honestly at this point – I’ve talked to people and I’m like ‘I think that’s a win this year,'” he said.

Tomamichel said federal emergency funding sent directly to schools didn’t help some as much as others – some schools received millions, while others received thousands or less.

The shortage of funding is forcing some schools to dip into their reserves to support essential things like additional pay for teachers navigating an increased workload and hours, purchasing sanitizing sprays and PPE, and buying technology to support students learning remotely.

Kevin Scott, CFO for Elkhart Community Schools, said a key concern is whether lawmakers will provide relief from a state law that limits funding for students learning virtually.

“If they don’t take action, they are going to put districts statewide in serious, serious financial distress,” Scott said.

Under a law passed in early 2019, schools only receive 85 percent of per-pupil funding for students learning remotely more than half the time. The State Board of Education provided a temporary workaround for this fall, but school officials remain uncertain on what lawmakers might do to address the issue moving forward.

Scott said nearly all students in his school corporation have been learning virtually more than half the time because of the pandemic. He said without lawmakers taking action, his corporation alone could lose up to $12 million. Meanwhile, Tomamichel said for Westfield-Washington it could mean a loss of up to $1.7 million.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.