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IPS considers ‘tough decisions’ amid $15M budget shortfall, pandemic-driven enrollment slump

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Declining enrollment at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) resulted in a $15.3 million budget shortfall, according to data released Tuesday by the district.

Indiana funds schools on a per-student basis.

IPS, the state’s largest public school district, reported a 3% enrollment dip since the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Students enrolled in the district’s newly added schools – Emma Donnan Middle School, Manual High School and Christel House – were not included in the calculations.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson did not rule out the possibility of staff or program cuts during a Tuesday morning roundtable discussion with reporters.

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“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions,” Johnson said. “There are still a lot of unknowns.”

She blamed the coronavirus pandemic for the enrollment slump. 

Pandemic-related school disruptions prompted more parents to embrace homeschooling, she suspected. 

Families also opted to hold younger children back one year instead of sending them to school for the first time amid uncertainty. 

IPS data revealed pre-K enrollment fell nearly 50%. Kindergarten enrollment dipped by more than 15%. Enrollment decreased at every grade level from pre-K through sixth grade by at least 3%.

Kindergarten through eighth grade enrollment increased in the northwestern part of the district but decreased in southeastern communities.

Mobility contributed heavily to enrollment disparities, administrators said.

Johnson pushed back against calls to reverse a new school funding rule, which could further slash the district’s budget.

In September, the State Board of Education authorized districts to receive 100% of funding for students learning remotely because of COVID-19, a move applauded by administrators and educators. 

Revoking the new rule would result in a 15% funding cut for districts operating entirely online.

“I think it is highly inappropriate to incentivize school districts to make decisions based on funding, and not based on the health and safety of their students,” Johnson said.

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