TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Tippecanoe School Corporation has 100 fewer kindergartners this school year, and a house bill passed earlier this year may have something to do with it.
House bill 1001 was passed in March. Since then, parents, educators and lawmakers have expressed unhappiness about a provision in the bill.
In Indiana, to get into kindergarten, you have to be five-years-old on or before Aug. 1. However, parents can appeal if their four-year-old missed the cut off.
"Maybe they were born August 2nd, maybe they were born August 20th, we've typically enrolled those students," said TSC Superintendent Scott Hanback.
Now under a new provision, the state won't give schools funding for four-year-olds. This change came under House Bill 1001. State Representative Sally Siegrist authored the bill that gave districts an additional $100 million from the state to account for an increase in unplanned students this past school year.
"We wouldn't have been able to keep tuition supplements stable, because the amount we budgeted didn't include those extra 6,000 students," said Siegrist.
The goal for the bill was to allow schools to have the amount they budgeted for, despite the unplanned statewide student increase. At that point, the kindergarten provision was not part of the bill. Once the bill passed out of the house and went over to the senate for approval, Senator Ryan Mishler felt the provision needed to be added.
"Schools found a loophole and started enrolling kids at four and advertised a Pre-K program," said Mishler. "Then, they retained them for a second year of kindergarten at age five."
Mishler felt if the State was going to help with funding, schools couldn't do that.
"So the only way to stop that was to say 'that's fine but if you want to have your waiver process to allow a student in at four, you will have to pay for it.'"
The school funding bill, along with the new kindergarten provision, was voted in by the senate. It went back to the house and they did not concur.
"The reason I dissented was precisely because of the age cutoff date," said Siegrist.
It went to conference committee because changes were made by the Senate. Most of the senators lined up with Mishler. In fear of losing the whole bill, Siegrist said the house concurred because the schools really needed those funds.
"Nobody is happy, the house is unhappy, the superintendents are unhappy, parents are extremely unhappy," said Siegrist.
The question then became the date lawmakers should use. Mishler said he wasn't dead set on Aug. 1, but that was the date decided because it lined up with the beginning of the school year.
Hanback attributes the 100 fewer kindergartners this year to a low birth rate in 2013 and this kindergarten provision. Since the district was on their own for funding, this year they were strict about the Aug. 1 deadline.
"There's not a whole lot of wiggle room there," said Hanback. "The appeal process still exists, but with schools not getting funding, it makes it hard to educate those students."
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