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By Hannah Troyer
Years after property tax caps first went into place, school districts continue to feel the effects of lost revenue, especially as they struggle to pay for transportation costs.
On Jan. 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 163 unanimously to try to help them. The bill went on to receive unanimous support of the full Senate as well.
The bill - authored by Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport - would allow 58 school districts in the state, or those who have at least a 20 percent loss in their transportation funds, to raise more money.
The legislation would temporarily eliminate the tax caps for those funds alone, in part to help them pay off debt they've already accumulated. The caps would be eliminated for just three years.
The committee voted after school officials testified about their efforts to raise enough money to keep buses running. The discussion comes as schools and local governments continue to lose money to the caps, which limit the amount that homeowners, businesses and farmers have to pay in property taxes.
Many school districts including, Muncie Community Schools, have sought referendums to raise money above the tax caps but failed.
"The Muncie school district is a poster child. There is an almost 89 percent loss in the transportation fund," Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said. "It's not a situation a school should be put in. It is a crisis situation in the city of Muncie." Head says these schools "are in a desperate situation through no fault of their own."
Head also said the three-year exemption period will allow lawmakers and school districts time to evaluate the situation and how to fix the funding problems, while offering relief to the struggling schools.
Chuck Brimbury, superintendent of Peru Community schools, said the bill allowing the three-year period is necessary for him to continue educating kids at the current quality level.
"Our kids from this district need your help," Brimbury said. "We need to get them to school to break the cycle of poverty. I have a 48 percent cut in transportation. I had to cut buses last year and I will have to do it again. If I can't use the transportation fund, I have to use the general fund. Do I get rid of more programs and more teachers or get them here? That's what's on our plate."
Hannah Troyer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.