Why does it feel like we're being punished for choosing the best school for our children?

by Cheryl Kirk

In Indiana there has long been a question on how education is funded and why some schools receive more or less per pupil than others.

Take for example these two Indianapolis Public Schools.

Both are traditional magnet schools with around 600 students, with about 60 percent of the children from low-income families. Broad Ripple Magnet High School received $11,581 per pupil last year, compared to to Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet, which received $5,630 per student the same year as reported by Chalkbeat Indiana.

So why the difference in funding?

The state of Indiana will pay $6,732 per pupil for a student to attend a traditional Indianapolis district school, but if that same student attended a charter school, the state will pay an average of $5,939 per pupil. The same student qualifying for a voucher will receive $6,063 (on a 90-percent voucher) and only $3,368 if qualifying for a 50 percent voucher, as reported by the Institute for Quality Education.

Teacher salary seems to be one thing that drives per-pupil cost. Of course, teachers with more seniority are obviously paid higher salaries, so a school like Broad with a greater proportion of veteran teachers would cost more.

One thing I noticed while my children were in a charter school was that they hired quite a few younger, less experienced teachers, in part because they didn’t have much choice based on the fixed amount of money charters receive.

I saw a lot of young and enthusiastic teachers who really didn't have any senior teachers to mentor them through some difficult situations, which as a parent was frustrating because I knew they were well intentioned and could have improved with more skilled teachers to guide them.

The question is: How are some schools doing more with less? There are some charter schools that can't provide bus service and can't afford many extra curricular activities.

In my case, when choosing a school for my children, location and transportation played an important role in my decision.

The charter school my oldest attended for elementary and middle school provided limited bus service to central locations at no additional cost to families. The private school they currently attend has limited bus service to central locations at additional cost to families that use the service. This could be a hurdle for a family who feels like their child would be better suited at a choice school but they have no way to get them there.

All the money doesn't follow the student wherever they attend. If they leave the traditional school system and attend a charter or private school (on a voucher) all the money doesn't follow them. If the state of Indiana determines a set amount for student funding it shouldn't decrease based on choice.

It's almost as if parents are being punished for choosing a school outside the traditional district system, and the schools are being set up for failure.

There is a huge argument by many politicians, taxpayers and choice school opponents that choice schools are destroying public schools by taking away funding, yet it appears the district is actually keeping money for children they are not educating.

If there is a clear reason for this disparity, as a parent, it would be very helpful to understand this.

I believe funding should be fair and standard across the board, with the exception of extra money for children living in poverty, special needs and other services that demand additional federal funding.

The politics around choice is complicated enough, and parents need clear answers about why schools are funded the way they are. The cost of educating a child in Indiana should not depend on where the school is located or how it is governed. 

Quality education should not be determined by the zip code you live in.