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home : columnists : columnists July 25, 2017

Flexibility would help direct more money to classrooms
Guest Column
State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero)
State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero)
State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero)

As a member of the House of Representatives, I remain dedicated to supporting educators and students. Working to direct more dollars to the classroom and improving testing is among my priorities.

Indiana spends over half of our state's general funds on K-12 education. It is vital that the legislature gives schools the ability to channel more dollars into educational needs, such as teacher salaries and classroom supplies. I have authored a proposal for a new law that would meet that need by implementing three changes: Every school would have an Education Fund and an Operations Fund, the capacity to move money between the two funds and property tax levies would be combined into a single levy.

Under the current set up, school corporations must follow strict budgeting guidelines, which can leave funds suspended and not available for use in other areas. This bill would break down these silos and provide greater transparency with school funds. It would replace the current system with two simple funding categories for schools, including an education fund and an operations fund. Expenditures for student instruction and learning - such as classroom equipment - would come out of the education fund. Maintenance costs, capital projects, utilities, bus replacement and other operational needs would be paid out of the operations fund.

Only 57 percent of school funding reaches the classroom in Indiana. With this proposal, if a school would need to pull money from the Operations Fund to the Education Fund, the school has the ability to make the necessary move. School corporations would be required to submit reports twice a year to the Department of Education showing the amounts transferred between funds and the reason for the transfer.

This proposal would also consolidate three out of the four major property tax levies - capital projects, school transportation and school bus replacement - into one operational levy. The fourth levy, debt services, would remain separate. The revenue generated under the new combined levy would not be restricted by the narrow budgetary restrictions that affect the current levy system. Overall, this bill would put flexibility back into the hands of local school officials. I want to foster a more flexible environment for Indiana's school corporations to better utilize their budgets and funds. It is vital that more dollars reach the classroom directly, so Hoosier students can receive a high-quality education.

As vice chair of the House Committee on Education, I want to ensure that Hoosier students receive a high-quality start to their education. Rep. Bob Behning has proposed a bill that would expand Indiana's current pre-K pilot program from five counties to 10. The pre-K program was created in 2014 and serves approximately 2,300 low-income families. This bill is expected to be heard in the House Education committee next week. Indiana is below the national average for pre-K enrollment, but I am supportive of investing in young Hoosiers. Throughout my 40 years working in education as a teacher, principal and superintendent, I have seen the advantages of high-quality early childhood education and I fully support this bill.

Please contact me with any questions or comments at H32@iga.in.gov or call (317)232-9793.

State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

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