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General Assembly

Speaker favors more for schools

Plans to add $300 million; Senate leader voices doubts

– House Republicans have been mum on budget details, but House Speaker Brian Bosma recently revealed a significant detail on education funding – restoring the $300 million education cut instituted in 2010.

During a press conference last Thursday mostly about the gay marriage amendment, Bosma said the House version of the budget will be unveiled next week with a focus on K-12 schools.

“We will be emphasizing increased education funding and restoring, really, the difficult education cuts that have taken place over the last three or four years, taking us back to the appropriation levels that we had prior to that,” he said.

That return to previous appropriation levels is big news for education supporters who have decried the cut since it occurred.

“If that’s the case that’s incredible,” said Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials. “They are making an effort to deal with the loss of those dollars, and we are supportive of any new money.”

Of course, how the money is appropriated is key.

For instance, House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, has said he wants to roll full-day kindergarten funding into the tuition support formula. This is the formula used to divide dollars to individual schools based on enrollment and other factors.

Right now, kindergartners are counted as half students in the formula because full-day classes are not required. And a $190 million outside grant is used to make up the rest of kindergarten funding.

If legislators move the $190 million from that grant program to the tuition support formula, it will look like a large increase but isn’t actually new dollars for schools to spend.

“I would support that, but you would have to be realistic that two-thirds of the money they are trying to give us back is money already in our pockets,” Costerison said.

He will mostly be looking at the per-pupil funding statewide and how it is affected by any education funding formula legislators propose.

Gov. Mike Pence recommended a 1 percent increase in school funding in Year 1 of the budget and possibly another 1 percent increase in the second year based on performance goals.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville – the Senate budget architect – was surprised at any plan to restore the $300 million. He said Bosma “must have a bigger budget to work with than us.”

He said any increase above the current baseline for K-12 schools must come with justification, and inflation alone isn’t enough.

“We are getting the job done now,” Kenley said. “Everything needs to be justified based on value received and return on investment.”

nkelly@jg.net

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