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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Punishing Teachers and Hurting Kids?

Punishing Teachers and Hurting Kids?

By Amy Blake
Director of Special Education
New Castle Area Special Services
Doctoral Student
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Today’s society includes a world of extreme competition, with high-stakes decisions, little room for error, and strong consequences for failure.  As a result, some members of society search for strategies that will “put the squeeze” on those who are under-performing and impose consequences for failure to improve. In fact, while painting with such a broad stroke, they also at times, adversely affect to those who are not under-performing, because of those who do under-perform.
Education has not escaped this pressure and is subject to intense scrutiny. Oftentimes, education takes the brunt of public frustration for society’s misgivings, resulting in unnecessary and misguided strategies imposed upon those working in a profession that is already replete with unintended consequences. It is with this in mind that we will shed light on one such strategy that we feel is missing the mark, with the potential to punish teachers and hurt kids.  Consider the following:

IC 20-29-6-3 Unlawful deficit financing
Sec. 3. (a) It is unlawful for a school employer to enter into any agreement that would place the employer in a position of deficit financing due to a reduction in the employer's actual general fund revenue or an increase in the employer's expenditures when the expenditures exceed the employer's current year actual general fund revenue.
    (b) A contract that provides for deficit financing is void to that extent, and an individual teacher's contract executed under the contract is void to that extent.
As added by P.L.1-2005, SEC.13. Amended by P.L.48-2011, SEC.13.

As a result of funding reductions and economic changes beyond the control of school districts, many school corporations across the state of Indiana could essentially find themselves with budgets that as a result, have expenses that exceed revenues (i.e. “spend more than they earn”) – budgets that would result in deficit spending from the general fund.
In an effort to address this concern, Indiana has enacted a statute that appears to restrict expenditures for school districts that are in deficit financing. The section of Indiana Code that addresses this concern is found in Title 20, Article 29, Chapter 6, Section 3 (IC 20-29-6-3) Specifically, a portion of IC 20-29-6-3(a) states, “It is unlawful for a school employer to enter into any agreement that would place the employer in a position of deficit financing...”  So, what does this really mean? Well, our interpretation is that it means a school district who is operating in deficit financing is prohibited from entering into an agreement with their teachers to increase, or possibly even to maintain teacher compensation at given staffing levels that are necessary for a quality education for children.
At face value, this law seems to make a lot of sense. After all, everyone must work within a budget, especially those that are spending the public’s money, such as schools.  So, what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that the categorical application of this rule, without exception or flexibility, can result in the unintended outcomes of punishing teachers and hurting kids. 
We are concerned that this rule could punish teacher longevity, which may result in greater turnover rate and ultimately hurt kids as a result of diminished consistency in the teaching staff.  For example, let’s say that Sally is a highly effective teacher who loves her students and works hard to meet their needs. However, Sally’s school corporation is currently in deficit spending. Therefore, IC 20-29-6-3(a) directly applies to Sally’s school corporation, prohibiting her corporation from granting increased compensation to any employee, including teachers. As a result, Sally is placed in a difficult situation. As long as Sally’s corporation remains in deficit spending, Sally will not receive an increase in compensation regardless of her highly effective performance.
Eventually, Sally may have to make a painful decision. She may even feel that the only way to receive the increased compensation she needs to maintain “cost of living” is to work for a corporation that is not in deficit financing. This means that Sally may have to resign her current teaching position and accept a teaching position with a neighboring corporation (who is not in deficit financing). Doing so might permit her to hire in and receive credit for her experience and performance, resulting in increased compensation. For Sally and her students, this is very unfortunate.
Could financial rigidity also create a disincentive for school corporations to maintain the employment of the more costly teachers of longer service, who are performing at the same levels as more junior teachers that don’t cost as much?
Although IC 20-29-6-3(a) does ensure, more or less, that school corporations will maintain the balanced budgets that appropriations provide to them, the reality is that the ultimate impact can be harmful for kids, when situations beyond a school’s control put a squeeze on revenue after budgets have been built.
After all, school corporations cannot magically increase revenue. They cannot raise the price of their products or services in order to make a quick buck. Rather, schools operate on fixed incomes while providing services and supports for students, that they themselves may increase in cost.  Too often, that means that a corporation will operate in deficit spending, as the realities of our economy pit one public service over another when additional revenue requests of tax-paying businesses or citizens are not politically attractive. 
So, what’s the answer?
We believe that the answer lies not in “focusing on what is broken,” but rather in focusing on “what we want more of” (Regier & King, 2013, p. 161) as we work to make a positive difference.  
A good start would be to reconsider the probable, unintended consequences of IC 20-29-6-3(a) and search for meaningful alternative strategies to address deficit spending. Perhaps a solution resides in finding a way to make every public dollar count while still focusing on what we want more of in our schools (i.e. more highly effective teachers and improved student achievement). 
In the meantime, we might publicly recognize what is NOT the answer – inflexibility and uniformity in anyone’s bottom line. That could punish teachers and hurt kids.


Unlawful deficit financing, Ind. Code. §§ 20-29-6-3 (2011).
Regier, N., & King, J. (2013). Beyond drama: Transcending energy vampires. Newton, KS:  
            Next Element Publishing.  


Amy Blake and Ryan Donlan have strong perspectives regarding using broad-brushstroke solutions in situations requiring a fine pen to solve the problems we face in education, in our state, and in our nation.  If you would like to join them in conversation, please do not hesitate to contact them at or at

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