The Vigo County School Corp. would have to pay nearly $1.4 million for student textbooks in fiscal year 2024 if a measure in the Indiana House budget becomes final, says state Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute.

In his proposed state biennial budget, Gov. Eric Holcomb called for the Legislature to eliminate all textbook fees for students and appropriate state funding to cover those costs.

But the House Republicans’ budget eliminates textbook funding and instead will force schools to pay for the cost of textbooks out of their state funding, even for students on free and reduced lunches, which the state currently covers, Pfaff said Tuesday in a news release.

Under the House budget proposal, VCSC would receive a 3.4% increase in total funding from 2023 to 2024, up from $109.9 million to $113.7 million.

But if the district has to spend $1.4 million to pay for textbooks, that increase in funding actually comes out to only 2.14%, far below the current 6.4% rise in inflation, Pfaff stated. “Our state constitution promises tuition-free education for all students, and it’s time to make good on that promise for students and families,” Pfaff said.

House Republicans are imposing “a massive unfunded mandate … while claiming it’s a win for students and families,” Pfaff says. VCSC would have less money to boost learning loss efforts for students, improve school operations and give teachers and staff cost-of-living increases, Pfaff stated. In proposing that the state cover the cost of textbooks, Holcomb’s office estimated it would cost the state $160 million.

“Given our state budget totals $43 billion, I can’t stress enough how relatively small this budget expenditure would be for a huge, positive impact on students, families, and schools,” Pfaff said. As part of the House Republican budget proposal, this provision has passed out of the Indiana House of Representatives and is now under consideration by the State Senate.
State Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said he believes the topic will be discussed.

“We want to find a way to cover textbooks. If we leave it the way the House has it or (if) we pull it out is yet to be determined,” Ford said.

He said he believes the Legislature should find a way to make sure the textbook cost being borne by parents gets covered.

“We’ll see. We just finished all our agency testimony Monday, and now we’re getting into K-12 and higher education funding,” Ford said.

State Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil, said in a prepared statement, “Our local students and schools continue to be a top priority, and despite declining enrollment, the House-passed budget includes increases in student funding support for the Vigo County School Corp.”

Over the next two years, VCSC is projected to receive $596 more per student in state funding, which is a 7.2% increase per student over current levels, Morrison said.

In the second year of the budget, the nearly $600 in new per-student funding exceeds the average amount of $105 reportedly spent per student by the corporation for textbooks. This means the school would still have an estimated $495 per student to use for other classroom-related expenses like increasing teacher salaries, Morrison stated.

Katie Shane, VCSC interim director of communications, said it is the district’s practice to wait for the end of the session and a finalized version before commenting on the impact of specific legislation.

Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said ISBA supports Gov. Holcomb’s version of the House budget bill.

The governor’s version includes a separate line item with an adequate appropriation, he said.

The current version of the state budget “bakes in textbook costs inside the student funding formula and we assume is a part of the $679 million in FY ‘2024 increases provided,” he stated.

After that, school corporations will have to plan to use education fund dollars to fully cover textbook costs, and if student funding formula increases decline or are minimal in the future, the school districts must decide whether to pay teachers more or cover the escalating costs of textbooks, he said.

If the House version becomes final, “There will be significant unintended consequences with this funding mechanism,” Spradlin said.

Over time, textbooks will be used for longer cycles, potentially diminishing the quality of textbooks, and perhaps resulting in obsolete content in the older curricular materials, he said.

Down the road, school corporations may opt for classroom sets of textbooks and not issue textbooks individually to students for use at home or in school.

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