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Online tool from CEEP provides insight into Indiana school funding changes

Data visualization highlights changes to funding formula

The School Finance Team at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University has created a new online tool to allow anyone to find detailed information on changes in Indiana school funding. CEEP has launched a series of data visualizations -- a method of presenting data in more easily comprehendible graphics -- highlighting the impact of recent changes to the school funding formula.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a two-year budget bill, setting the school funding formula for 2015-17, in April. The budget included large cuts for some districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools. Overall, CEEP research found that 307 school corporations and charters gained funding, while 56 lost funding.

"School finance research is an important part of our education policy research portfolio," CEEP Director John Hitchcock said. "Visualization tools make it possible for CEEP to share its research publicly and in a format that allows residents to easily see how policy changes impact them and their communities."

This research supports the center's mission to inform policy and improve practice by providing rigorous, nonpartisan education research and policy analysis.

Data visualization has been widely used in other fields, such as business, health care and public affairs, to show changes in various patterns and trends. Visualization creates an interactive experience where the user can propose alternative scenarios and see how variables influence outcomes.

"Data visualization has not been widely used in school finance, though it certainly lends itself well to the field," said Chad Lochmiller, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the IU School of Education. Lochmiller leads CEEP's School Finance Team. "This approach allows CEEP to take information that has historically been shared only with legislators and begin sharing it with Hoosiers statewide so that they know what's happening in their schools. Data visualization creates transparency and accountability."

CEEP's first data visualization research project focused on the Complexity Grant, a component of the Indiana school funding formula that provides additional funds to school corporations and charter schools based on the number of students from low-income families. In highlighting how changes in the Complexity Index formula alter funding amounts received by school districts on a per-pupil basis, this visualization invites users to apply their own changes to see whether they can increase funding for school corporations without affecting the education budget overall.

"We first focused on the complexity grant because it was one of the more complicated parts of the school funding formula," said Thomas Sugimoto, a research associate at CEEP and School Finance Team member. "Our goal was to show how changes to the Complexity Index formula affect funding to school corporations based on the types of students they serve. These changes have large impacts in how funding is distributed between Indiana's school corporations."

The new visualization by CEEP allows users to see how their school corporation or charter schools will fare in comparison to other corporations and charter schools across the state.

"The current funding formula maintains the same process for funding schools, but the General Assembly recently made numerous changes to that formula," Lochmiller said. "In particular, lawmakers changed how the Complexity Grant formula is calculated and also increased the funding amount provided per student. These changes have major implications for school corporations, particularly those districts with declining enrollment and a large proportion of students from low-income families. With CEEP's data visualization, school leaders, parents and teachers in those districts can more easily understand how the new funding formula impacts them."

The School Finance Team is working on additional visualizations. This fall, the team releases a new visualization that will show how much funding school corporations received under the state's new performance-based funding model.

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan program evaluation and education policy research centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations and agencies. CEEP's experience includes numerous external evaluations of programs funded by National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences, as well as numerous contracts with state departments of education, foundations and school districts.

The CEEP School Finance Team has been conducting research on school funding issues since the 1990s. The research is currently funded through a biennial appropriation provided by the Indiana General Assembly to the Indiana State Board of Education. CEEP is housed within the Indiana University School of Education.

Source: IU News