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No textbook fees for families are creating budget shortfalls for school districts

Posted at 7:44 PM, Jul 27, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — The cost of books and supplies has been taken off parents and tacked onto school districts, but it’s causing concern for districts who say this will affect their bottom line.

The state dedicated $160 million to eliminate textbook and curriculum fees, but the funding schools are receiving is something Wayne Township Schools Superintendent Jeff Butts says isn’t enough.

“Really, when we look at our overall expenditures for K-12 textbooks, we know that the $151 that was appropriated is not enough to cover what we are offering to students in the classroom,” Butts said.

For Wayne Township parents like Rachel Heinbaugh, no longer having to pay the fees will save a decent chunk of change.

“Fees generally range from $130 to $180,” Heinbaugh, a mother of five, said. “Then on top of that, you have sports fees, band rentals, TI-84 calculators for algebra and all that. Our average year has been $850.”

The cost to school districts isn’t the only issue.

Many school districts are trying to figure out what they have to cover and what they don’t, especially when it comes to advanced classes and career development courses.

"Determining how critical is that to the assignment of a grade versus something that is above and beyond,” Butts said. “Or is it something that is additional that we are offering to students that may not be tied directly to the grade? That's really where that gray area comes in that I think people are struggling with."

In May, the Department of Education did provide guidance for what's considered curriculum materials. You can find that by clicking here. The DOE says those include things like books and computer software.

However, when asked about other fees, the DOE told districts to consult their own legal council. That’s a conversation administration at Wayne Township is still having.

"Having started school not exactly knowing what we are doing with fees certainly causes some confusion for families," Butt said.

Confusion aside, Wayne Township schools also need to figure out how to make up for budget shortfalls.

“We believe our education fund will have to supplement about $1.5 to $2 million as we get into this new school year. That is not being provided through this most recent budget run,” Butts said.

WRTV’s Meredith Hackler asked what that means for the expenses the money was originally meant to go to.

"We are a people-heavy business,” Butts said. “We have teachers and students and all kinds of support staff that come out of the education fund. We know that fewer dollars in education means that we are going to hire fewer teachers and not be able to give the raises and salaries we had hoped for. "

Heinbaugh feels the state should make sure schools have the funds they need to properly cover these needed materials.

"If we are going to have these requirements that school districts are to pay for curriculum, pay for the textbooks. There should be money allocated from that,”

Several school districts say this is something they support. However, districts feel the state should fully fund this new requirement.

Some district and teacher unions support opening the budget in the next legislative session. That’s not something that typically happens during the short session.

WRTV reached out to the Governor's office numerous times to ask about the budget shortfalls districts are facing. We didn’t receive a response.