Ritz requests state funding for textbook rentals

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana is one of eight states that charges families for the cost of textbooks, but the state’s top education official wants that to change.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has requested the state pick up the cost. She has included the request in her proposed budget for the Indiana Department of Education.

Ritz said it is a way to make sure all school districts have the same resources for textbooks, while giving parents a financial break -- but it was unclear if the General Assembly will agree.

Keanah Jamerson is a mother of four who receives help from the state to pay for her children’s textbooks. She said she doesn’t agree with the idea of the state picking up the tab for everyone.

"If you don't need it, don't take advantage of it. (It should only be) for people that need it, I think it would be more helpful," Jamerson said.

Donald Condiff disagreed. The father of seven has the cost of his children’s education budgeted down to the dollar.

Textbook fees for students in kindergarten through 12th grade start around $100. It’s a cost that Ritz said is difficult for many families to afford.

"It continues to be an issue with inequity with our students statewide, and I'm all about making sure no matter where students go to school that they have the same resources available to them," Ritz said.

The state currently partially reimburses school districts for the cost of textbooks. That leaves districts to pick up the tab for the difference and the costs that families can’t pay.

In Beech Grove, 68 percent of the students live in poverty.

"We no longer give every kid a textbook. We use technology, and we'll have classroom sets in there because that's much more affordable with the limited amount of resources we receive from the state," said Superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools Paul Kaiser.

Kaiser said the state-funded textbook rentals would greatly help.

"We realize that that's not going to be an unlimited resource. But, at least give every student $100 as an example, and then if we need to charge above that or something like that or ask parents to pay above that," Kaiser said.

The Department of Education expects it would cost $109 million to cover the cost of textbooks. That’s $70 million more than what’s allocated this year.

The idea is expected to be a tough sell to lawmakers -- specifically Republicans.

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