State Budget Seizes The Day With Massive Investment In Education
By Alexa Shrake
INDIANAPOLIS—Gov. Eric Holcomb and state legislative leaders on Tuesday announced a final version of the state budget for the next two years, which includes increased funding for teacher pay, broadband and mental health.
“I think we’re living in a rare time,” Holcomb said. “We’re going to seize the day.”
Last week after the General Assembly learned of the revenue forecast that brought in $2 billion more than expected, the budget proposal was adjusted to make use of that extra money.
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said he expected recovery after this past year in which the state had to use some of its financial reserves due to pandemic-related shortfalls in revenue.
“We are looking at a very different picture now than we were last year,” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “Indiana House Democrats expect this to be addressed in the budget with more support allotted to our local public schools, early childhood education, food banks, and public and mental health initiatives.”
The $37.4 billion state budget has a main focus on education. Indiana plans to spend half of the state budget on K-12 schools over the next two years, investing in teacher pay and recommending to local school districts a starting teacher salary of $40,000 a year. About $1 billion will go to tuition support scholarships and learning loss grants.
“Our state budget is a historic win for Hoosier students, teachers and families,” House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said in a statement.
Huston said the recommendation for teacher pay came directly out of the state’s recent Teacher Pay Commission report.
One of the ongoing debates this session has been how much to give the state’s voucher program and charter schools compared to public schools. The first version of the budget primarily gave vouchers and charter schools funding and didn’t explicitly address teacher pay for public schools.
This past year, Hoosiers have experienced challenges due to a lack of internet access. The state plans to address that by spending $250 million on broadband improvements.
“Being connected is no longer a luxury, it is essential,” Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch said.
Other budget items
As of 2020, Indiana’s unemployment rate was at 7.1%. In hope of bringing that down, the state plans to spend $500 million on the state unemployment fund.
Holcomb said $900 million will go to future infrastructure, but no specific project.
There will be $110 million for building project debt and $192 million for road debt.
“We’re paying down debt and avoiding future debt,” Holcomb said. “So when the rain does come, we’re in an even stronger position.”
The budget will restore mental health funds to previous levels as well as putting an additional $100 million toward mental health grants.
“Rather than create future obligations, we are creating flexibility for the state moving forward so that our state can continue to thrive and provide opportunities for all Hoosiers in Indiana,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said in a statement.
The budget still needs to go through the conference committee and be voted on by both the House and Senate Wednesday, which is expected to be the last day before the temporary adjournment of the legislative session.
FOOTNOTE: Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students