Legislature shifts textbook costs to schools from parents

As parents prepare for next school year, there’s one expense they won’t have to worry about: textbook fees.

A new $160 million curricular material reimbursement fund in the state’s budget will provide schools money to cover the cost of textbook fees starting this fall. Before the decision, Indiana was one of just seven states to charge parents textbook fees.

But many schools have yet to find out exactly how much money they’ll be provided per student and if all materials, such as Chromebooks and iPads, will be covered. School leaders say they’re still waiting for guidance from the Indiana Department of Education as they plan their finances for the year. School officials are left wondering if they’ll have to adjust what materials they order based on reimbursement amounts.

IDOE representatives have given an average estimate of $152 in textbook fee reimbursement, said Tim Edsell, superintendent of Indian Creek schools.

“That is a good gauge for us to start looking at the textbook fees we’ve charged over the last several years, and see what grade levels are under that amount and which ones are over, and how to prioritize and reduce materials we won’t be able to charge families,” Edsell said. “It’s a positive for families to enter a school year and not have to pay a significant amount for textbook rental feels. I’m thankful that legislators put that amount into the budget so we can get reimbursed.”

At Indian Creek schools, fees typically range from $128 to $190 for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. If the materials fees exceed the reimbursement amount, school officials could also look to the education fund or remaining cash balance from previously collected textbook fees, he said.

Clark-Pleasant textbook fees ranged from $131 to $205 for kindergarten through eighth graders during the 2022-23 school year, according to school district documents.

Those fees include curricular software, books and hardware, such as Chromebooks, said Austin Fruits, business director for Clark-Pleasant schools.

But fees often accumulate rapidly for high school students involved in Advanced Placement and dual credit classes. For example, at Center Grove High School, textbook fees can rise to as much as $800 for high school students taking several of those classes, school officials said in January.

Clark-Pleasant school leaders will need to get additional IDOE guidance to figure out what is covered and what they will need to add into the school district’s budget, Fruits said.

“There would have to be a discussion. There’s always the option of trying to cover (excess fees) with the education fund, but we also have some general obligation bonds that can cover tech purchases like Chromebooks if we need to,” Fruits said. “I think the timing wasn’t great. You already had schools going to boards for approval for the fees next year without knowing what would happen to those fees. Having more time would’ve been beneficial to all schools.”

School administrators often plan curriculums several years in advance. For example at Franklin schools, there is a six-year textbook adoption cycle, and officials make decisions on textbooks based on how the district expects to collect in fees each year, said Brooke Worland, assistant superintendent for Franklin schools.

The state reimbursement will likely leave a funding gap which school officials will have to plan how to cover, she said.

“It feels abrupt because it all goes into effect July 1,” Worland said. “It feels sometimes like we don’t have enough time to pivot but we had an inkling this might happen with the governor’s (State of the State) address. I think, in principle, it’s a great thing for families, but it might take us a year or so to figure out how we plan and what it looks like (for textbook adoption).”

The Greenwood school board approved textbook adoption for the upcoming school year during its May 16 meeting, and the school district may look to the education fund to cover the difference between state reimbursement and material costs, Superintendent Terry Terhune said during the meeting.

“We can cut back in a couple of places, but there are things we need,” he said.

Center Grove and Edinburgh officials said they were waiting for additional guidance and declined to comment further.

More information from the IDOE will likely be available sometime next month, Fruits said.