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There won’t be any more textbook costs for Indiana families



Indianapolis, Indiana – A small district of 1,100 students east of Indianapolis has been working for years to eliminate the fees that have put obstacles in the way of children and burdened their families.

However, administrators at Charles A. Beard Memorial schools understood that if they accepted the costs, they would have to bear them over time, according to superintendent Jediah Behny. Therefore, they began modestly by getting rid of the admission fees for school sporting events before eventually doing away with them in 2020.

“We wanted to eliminate the likelihood that some kids were getting something that others weren’t,” Behny said.

All Indiana schools will be compelled to follow the district’s lead and stop charging parents for curricular materials, including textbooks, iPads, and Chromebooks, as of this school year, thanks to a bill passed in the 2023 legislative session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposed reform aims to ease the financial burden on Indiana families, who claim to spend hundreds of dollars year on school supplies for their children. One of the last few states to still permit schools to impose these fees was Indiana.

According to Indiana Department of Education officials, the bill allocates $160 million for curriculum materials, but a per-student figure has not yet been decided. The government will arrive at this figure by dividing the total amount that all schools report for curriculum expenditures by the number of children enrolled in each public school and the number of students who qualify for admission to each private school based on socioeconomic status.

Education supporters concur that the shift benefits families, but they insist that the state shoulder the financial burden of supporting schools. Additionally, they claim that more clarification is required as the start of a new school year draws near. This is because it is unclear how much money will be available for schools to spend and what exactly qualifies as curricular materials under the new law, which broadly includes books, computer software, digital content, and hardware that students will use throughout the course of a year.

According to Denny Costerison of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, only time will tell if the overall budget is adequate. If further funding is required, it will be up to the General Assembly to do it, which most likely won’t happen until the 2025 biennial budget session.

According to a departmental FAQ, schools will get funding in a bulk payment in December.

“Textbooks don’t get cheaper, they get more expensive,” said Terry Spradlin of the Indiana School Boards Association. He noted that when Indiana first considered dropping textbook fees in the 1990s, the cost estimate was around $100 million.

For students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the state currently pays the cost of their textbooks, at a cost of about $39 million annually.

According to Spradlin, a per-pupil amount of around $162 would fall well short of covering the costs for high school courses for all students, but would likely meet most districts’ primary and middle school expenses. Although the government declined to confirm, Spradlin claimed that the example sum was taken from an IDOE communication.

Any excess from the lower grades might be used to pay for courses in the secondary school, but he added that schools might also have to utilize money from their education budget to make up any shortfalls. Another choice is to use federal emergency funds, but they will run out in September 2024.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that general funds are also required to pay the majority of running and staff expenses at schools, according to Keith Gambill of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

“You need to be able to provide the funding they need to operate and make sure those programs are fully realized without jeopardizing important items, which includes salaries,” Gambill said. “That’s where things can get tricky, especially for schools on a leaner budget.”

Curriculum materials, in contrast to dual enrollment courses, are said to be included in advanced placement, dual credit, and career technical education courses. Schools are permitted to charge parents for lost or broken goods and may provide technology insurance.

According to Spradlin, further counsel may be required for co-curricular activities as well as for goods like parking passes and student ID cards. For instance, the performing arts can involve a range of expenses for equipment and maintenance, as well as clothing and transportation to school performances.

According to Costerison, a course is probably regarded as one that schools cannot charge for if it is obligatory or if students earn a grade for it. According to the education department’s FAQ, if there are any additional inquiries about what constitutes instructional material, schools should speak with their legal counsel.

After accumulating a stock of instruments over the last few years, Charles A. Beard Memorial schools will be able to provide fee-free music programs to kids this year, according to Behny, the superintendent.

However, he cautioned that the increased financing might not be sufficient for districts that are only beginning to cut fees. He claimed that the new law will give the district the final push to eliminate the last of its fees for its cooperative programs.

His district spent about $87,000 on textbook expenses in the first year of the program. They spent about $110,000 this year to pay the tuition for 1,100 students, using money they had saved via attrition and keeping an eye on supplier costs.

“It was much easier to do than I thought it would be,” he said.


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