Final state budget proposal prioritizes education funding

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, center, speaks Tuesday in the House chamber about the education funding components in the final state budget proposal, alongside Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, left, and state Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, co-chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a compromise state budget proposal that increases funding for elementary and high school student education by a total of $539 million, a 2.5% boost in both the 2020 and 2021 budget years.

House Bill 1001 also frees up $70 million a year for local school corporations on an ongoing basis by using state reserve funds to bring a teacher pension account to fully-funded status, and thereby enable a cut in the pension contribution rate paid by school districts.

In addition, the measure allocates another $74 million more each year for various statewide education programs, including $37.5 million for Teacher Appreciation Grants, up from $30 million; $19 million for Secured School Safety Grants, up from $9 million; and $3 million to launch a computer science training program for Hoosier teachers.

"My colleagues and I went into this budget session with the goal of passing a balanced budget that puts our students and teachers first, and I’m pleased to say that our final budget proposal meets that goal," said state Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Indeed, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, stood beside Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in the House chamber Tuesday to proclaim the spending plan "a tremendous success for public school education in Indiana."

"From the very beginning, my administration, the House and the Senate shared our top two priorities — passing a balanced budget and protecting our reserves that in turn protects our AAA credit rating and increasing K-12 funding as much as we possibly could. This budget proposal does both," Holcomb said.

The spending legislation, which takes effect July 1, continues to require school funding follow the student, so districts with declining enrollment still may see their revenue drop even as the basic per-student state grant increases 3.7% for the 2019-20 school year and 2.8% in 2020-21.

It also does not specifically require the additional education funding be spent on teacher pay raises, which the GOP House and Senate leaders said ought to be decided at the local level — sparking criticism from Democrats.

"We had a comprehensive proposal that would guarantee a salary increase for teachers, and the Republican supermajority once again neglected an opportunity to pay our teachers what they deserve," said state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.

House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, also took issue with the GOP claim that its budget includes a historic school funding increase.

"Republicans continue to prioritize unaccountable charter and voucher schools at the expense of traditional public schools," he said.

The two-year budget also includes approximately $250 million in additional funding each year for the Department of Child Services to roughly match what the agency has spent over the past two years, following a spike in drug-related child abuse and neglect cases.

At the same time, GOP leaders deleted a Senate-approved proposal to spend $800,000 for a study of Lake Michigan beach erosion in Northwest Indiana.

"The needs of our lakeshore communities have been wiped out of the budget completely," Tallian said.

Following approval of the budget legislation, likely Wednesday evening, the General Assembly is expected to adjourn its annual session — five days ahead of the statutory April 29 deadline.

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