File-Indiana schools COVID-19

Charo Woodcock cleans a classroom at McClelland Elementary School, Monday, June 22, 2020, in Indianapolis.

(The Center Square) – Public schools in Indiana have more to spend this year than ever before, with three rounds of federal pandemic funding over the last year totaling more than $3 billion, and almost $1 billion more coming from the state.

The increase in state funding – a 4.6% increase this year and a 4.3% increase next year – comes with few strings attached. The only requirements are 45% of state funds for K-12 schools be spent on teacher pay, and if a school corporation is still paying any teachers less than $40,000 next year, it must submit a report to the Indiana Department of Education.

For the federal funding, the requirements for the third round, called ESSER III, were that 20% be spent on addressing learning loss that occurred during the pandemic and schools applying for the funds must show how they will follow CDC guidance for re-opening and keeping schools open while mitigating the risk of the COVID-19 virus.

ESSER III funds were awarded under the American Rescue Plan, passed March 11. Application for funds were due June 25. Indiana schools were awarded a total of just less than $2 billion– all of which has been received and distributed to local school corporations, according to a spokesperson for the department of education.

To be eligible to receive funds, the state had to submit an application outlining how it would support local school corporations in complying with guidance from the CDC for reopening and operating schools.

On Indiana's application, Brian Murphy, chief of staff of the Indiana Department of Education, wrote Indiana would continue to give guidance to schools on proper mask-wearing, encourage schools to continue social distancing, encourage contract tracing and continue to work with the Indiana Department of Health to make the vaccine available to all eligible individuals. It also mentions the state recently sent out a survey “seeking to understand vaccine hesitancy in school aged children and their families.”

The amount that local school corporations could get through ESSER III was tied to the amount of money they get from the federal government in Title I funding – with Title I referring to high-poverty schools, those with a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Indianapolis Public Schools received about $136 million. Fort Wayne schools got more than $100 million, South Bend schools $59 million, Evansville schools $54 million, Gary schools $46 million and Hammond schools $40 million. More rural school corporations also got large amounts, with Vigo County schools, for example, getting more than $30 million.

The complete list of Indiana school corporations and the amount each received in ESSER III funds is here.

The average increase in federal funding for Indiana schools comes to more than $3,000 per student.

State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, a former member of the Indiana House education committee, said, “If anything, it proves how foolish we are to think that money is going to improve education.”

“At one point,” he said, “do we step back and say, this just isn’t working?”

He pointed to state test scores that show 70% of 10th graders in Indiana not passing state math and English tests.

“Four decades of education reform and here we are,” he said this week.

At an interim study committee meeting on education before the House and Senate education committees this summer, legislators questioned the new state secretary of education, Katie Jenner, asking for a specific plan to improve test scores.

The results of the 2021 I-Learn tests showed the majority of students in most of the grades tested were not proficient in either math or English.