Indiana lawmakers to consider changes to school funding for students learning in quarantine

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — Leaders in the Indiana legislature say they’ll work to prevent schools forced to quarantine students from losing state funding.

If a student is learning virtually for most of the first part of the school year, Indiana law allocates less funding for that student compared to one considered to be learning in person full time.

Many school districts have been forced to quarantine hundreds of students so far this school year, with some children under quarantine for several weeks due to illness or coming into close contact with confirmed coronavirus cases.

But in a letter sent to school districts, Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) say it wasn’t the intent of the law to take away some state funding for students who are supposed to be in the classroom.

“It was a great concern for me,” said Jeff Butts, Wayne Township superintendent. “It was a great concern for my colleagues across the state.”

Butts said his district has had roughly 3,500 students in quarantine since the start of school. He was worried his district would lose some state funding, and he’s not alone.

“Quite frankly, I think all of us thought that maybe we were being almost unintentionally punished for ensuring that we were following the requirements for quarantines,” said Laura Hammack, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools.

Under the current Indiana law, the state looks at attendance data as of Friday. A student who has been remote for at least 50% of the school year so far would be considered a virtual student, and the district would get 85% of the money it receives for a student considered to be learning in person full time.

The Indiana legislature wants to change the law so the state doesn’t take attendance until December 31, according to the letter.

“We really want them to do everything they can for students when they’re not in the classroom,” said State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), who chairs the House education committee. “So if that’s a virtual option, because of quarantine, that we don’t want to have any negative impact on those school districts.”

Educators say they feel optimistic state lawmakers will make sure districts are not penalized for running remote classes for students in quarantine.

“We believe that this is a positive step forward,” said Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. “And certainly in this case in the time of the pandemic, it’s a time that we really don’t have control over.”

There are a lot of specifics that still need to be worked out. State Rep. Behning said at this point, he doesn’t expect the legislature to allow for more funding per student learning virtually. The change in the law would likely be focused on addressing the students who have been temporarily quarantined by this point in the school year, he added.

Senate President Pro Tem Bray released the following statement Thursday:

We understand the difficult position schools currently find themselves in given COVID-19, especially as it relates to the rules surrounding when to quarantine students. With that in mind, we felt it would be only fair to provide schools with some certainty about how their funding will work for this school year. We still have details to work out when we return to session, but we believe that as long as a student is receiving more than 50% of their education in the classroom throughout the semester, that student should be counted as an in-person student. We want students in the classroom and we know schools do as well – it is better for students’ mental health and it is certainly better for their education. Learning in the classroom is what works best for most students.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray

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