The word student, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a person who attends a school, college or university” or “a person who studies something.”
As defined by the state legislature, however, that person must be a certain age.
In its 2021 session, the legislature added to Indiana Code a provision that places an age limit on who is determined to be a student for school funding purposes. And for school districts that provide adult education programs, students above age 23 no longer qualify for funding.
Kokomo School Corp. had been receiving state dollars for students enrolled at Twilight School, a program that assists adults looking to earn high school diplomas. With the new age cap, however, adults 23 and older must now find other options.
It’s a surprising decision by the state legislature, which also this year announced it had committed $2 billion in additional funds toward K-12 education over the next two years.
While that announcement was widely reported, the change in funding for adult learning stayed mostly under the radar – even to the schools affected by the change.
Mike Sargent, Kokomo Schools superintendent, said the corporation had been caught off guard. He told the Kokomo Tribune in July that administrators found out about the change only when it was mentioned during a teleconference this summer.
Achieve Virtual Education Academy, which is part of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, also was unaware of the change until a State Board of Accounts audit. The students who were enrolled there will continue their studies until graduation, but the school won’t receive state funding for them.
There is a great need for adult education in Indiana. Since 2012, more than 600 students have graduated from the Twilight School program, which has allowed people of all ages to attend.
According to a 2019 report by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state’s adult education program enrolls more students annually than Ball State University. In 2018, nearly 25,000 students were enrolled in adult education in Indiana.
Luckily, there are other options for adults over age 22 looking to obtain a high school diploma – such as the Excel Center in Kokomo and other communities and The Literacy Alliance in Fort Wayne. But this change means fewer options.
Anyone looking to improve their lot in life should have access to as many institutions and programs as possible to achieve their goals, no matter their age. Perhaps legislators should have checked a dictionary before making this change.