State Budget Pleases Many With Its Education Focus
By Alexa Shrake
INDIANAPOLIS—Almost all sides offered praise Wednesday for the final state budget proposal announced by Gov. Eric Holcomb and state legislative leaders, focusing mostly on its massive investment in education.
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.
“More than a decade’s worth of conservative fiscal discipline by the Indiana General Assembly is paying off in a big way for Hoosiers,” Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, said in a statement. “I am proud to invest in the future of Indiana, and I believe this budget proposal truly reflects the needs of the Hoosier state over the next two years and beyond.”
About half of the $37.4 billion state budget for the next two years will go toward K-12 schools, and Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said she is happy about the commitment.
“In Indiana’s budget, all Hoosier kids win,” Jenner said in a statement. “With a historic $1.9 billion in new K-12 education dollars over the biennium, Indiana’s school funding increases are enabling Indiana’s schools to strategically invest in our students as well as our educators.”
The budget plans to support teacher pay and recommends local school districts give starting teachers a salary of $40,000 a year. The plan also puts about $1 billion toward tuition support scholarships and learning loss grants.
“This is a good day for Indiana’s students, educators and communities,” Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said in a statement. “This level of funding is the direct result of our members’ advocacy.”
One of the ongoing debates throughout this session has been how much to give the state’s voucher program and charter schools compared to public schools. A voucher in Indiana provides scholarships for students who need help paying for tuition at certain non-public schools, and they are awarded based on a list of criteria including income eligibility.
Indiana currently has one of the biggest voucher programs in the country, and the next state budget will see the voucher program grow 38%—from $172 million this year to $227 million in 2022.
Rep. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said this past year has been difficult and the pandemic has brought to light what Hoosiers need support with. One of the issues the General Assembly took on was addressing the funding formula, which is how funds are distributed into the school districts.
“I’m glad that the supermajority has committed more money to the school funding formula. I remain critical of the increases that were made to school choice programs, however,” Melton said in a statement. “These programs educate less than 10% of our students and simply should not be receiving such a large chunk of the money allocated to educational funding.”
Rep. Dave Heine, R-Fort Wayne, said education continues to be a top priority.
“Combined with federal stimulus dollars, the state’s 293 school corporations should be on solid financial ground to invest in student learning and increased teacher salaries,” Heine said in a statement.
However, some say the budget is not enough, including parents of virtual education students.
“My daughters are not worth less than other students. Yet according to our state legislature, they are only worth 85% of other students because we choose to send them to online schools,” Letrisha Weber, board president of the National Coalition for Public School Options and an Indiana parent said in a statement. “If we sent them to a traditional school, they’d be worth 100% funding.”
The budget will face a final debate and vote at 10 a.m. Thursday, ending the session until lawmakers return to discuss redistricting in the fall.
FOOTNOTE: Alexa Shrake is a reporter the TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.