April 17, 2014

 

Policymakers certainly like to boast about balanced budgets, large surpluses and tax cuts for businesses. But sooner or later, one has to ask “at what cost?”

 

A prime example of this short-sightedness is the effect of tax cuts/caps and deep budget cuts have had on our local governments, particularly our state’s local public schools.

 

Since approving property tax caps in 2010, local governments and public schools have struggledThe caps kept $245 million from schools just last year.

 

This doesn’t include the potentially negative effects of the newest tax cut passed this session. The degree of the effects of the newest cuts remain unclear. A previous, broader version of the tax cut would have eliminated $1billion from already struggling local governments and public schools.

 

These funding cuts for schools, combined with the $300 million cut from schools beginning in 2009 (and never really restored) have had a dramatic negative impact on public school budgets from around the state. This has led to various ballot referendums in the past 4 years.

 

This year alone, there are nine school districts in the state asking voters for more revenue to support their schools districts’ struggling budgets. More than ninety school districts have held referendums to date. Less than half have passed, forcing schools to cut important student programs and teachers to lost jobs or vital benefits for their families.

 

This brings us to the latest high profile example of a struggling school district--this time in one of the wealthiest districts in the state. The Hamilton Southeastern School Board in Fishers voted this week to cut already modest health care benefits to teachers, as well as to begin charging fees to parents for sports and clubs--not to mention making students pay for their diplomas.

 

State leaders have an opportunity to stop the pain inflicted on public schools in next session’s budget writing. It is time for our legislature to reprioritize our state’s budget and fully fund one of our state’s most important assets – Indiana’s public schools.