School and state leaders still making public school funding a priority

Supt. Michele Starkey protested with her teachers at the Red for Ed Rally last November. Despite the challenges coronavirus has caused, the fight for education funding isn't over.

Posted: Jul 22, 2020 7:31 PM
Updated: Jul 22, 2020 7:45 PM

INDIANA (WLFI) - K-12 schools in Indiana breathed a sigh of relief when Governor Holcomb announced in June that public school funding would not be cut in the upcoming budget session. However, many schools now have to figure out the extra financial burdens of reopening during a pandemic.

"Now you lay awake all night long thinking of things that you have no control over but need to have some control over," said Logansport Community School Corporation Superintendent Michele Starkey.

School kids

She said trying to reopen her school district in the middle of a pandemic in the safest way possible isn't easy.

"There are so many unknowns in what we are dealing with right now that it's extremely stressful," she said.

Starkey joined her teachers in Indianapolis back in November for the Red for Ed Rally.

"I think it's important to show our kids that we are standing up for something we believe in," she said on the chilly November day, surrounded by her teachers and thousands of other teachers from across the state.

The teachers had several demands that day. They wanted a hold harmless on ILearn scores, they wanted to stop mandatory externship hours and the biggest demand teachers had at the rally was increased funding. 

The demands were met on the first two points, but Governor Holcomb promised in his State of the State address in January that funding wouldn't happen until next year in the 2021 budget session. That was only a few short weeks before the U.S. got it's first COVID-19 diagnosis, and only a few months before the coronavirus fire raged in Indiana. No one could predict the coronavirus pandemic or the devastating toll it would have.

"Because of the virus, we are about a billion and a half behind on projections and as we all know we are a long ways from seeing the end of this tunnel," said State Senator Ron Alting.

Sen. Alting advocated for finding ways to get teachers funding in the 2020 legislative session. Indiana had just legalized sports betting, which would bring in thousands of brand new income to the state. He wanted to see that revenue go towards education funding. The problem here is that coronavirus shut down the casino's and Indiana's sports betting revenue has dropped significantly. His efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

"I'm a big believer that you do something while you've got it because you don't know when you're going to lose it," he said. "The majority felt otherwise, paid down some capital debts, which is also a good idea. My vote was to go the other way, keep the capital debt at that time and reward teachers."

LCSC did receive CARES Act money, but that won't be enough to cover all the new coronavirus safety costs.

"Providing sanitization, providing hand sanitizer, the cleaning tools, extra hours that are going to be needed to do the sanitization," said Starkey on some of the new things they now have to budget for.

Things may be paused for now, but despite all the new obstacles coronavirus has caused, their fight isn't over.

"We can't lose sight of where we need go and what we need to do for public education," she said.

Logansport's school board will be voting on its reopening plan on Monday.

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