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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019 1:00 am

General Assembly

House GOP budget big on education

Boosts teachers, school safety

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – House Republicans today will present a $34.6 billion biennial state budget that focuses heavily on education.

“Our conservative plan is responsibly balanced while funding key priorities and maintaining healthy reserves,” said Ways and Means Co-chairman Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers. “We continue to strengthen our commitment to Hoosier students and educators and to those in the state's child welfare system.”

The proposed budget amendment increases K-12 spending 2.1 percent the first year and 2.2 percent the second year – about $461 million in new dollars over the two-year period. That is up slightly from the version introduced by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The GOP is urging districts to use much of that new money – plus the benefits of a one-time $150 million state payment of schools' teacher pension obligations – to increase teacher pay.

The House Republicans chose to keep a $30 million teacher appreciation grant instead of increasing a state school supplies tax credit.

Some of the new money is being used to increase the foundation grant amount for each student enrolled in K-12 from $5,352 per pupil to $5,549. How individual districts will fare won't be known until completion of an analysis that also takes into account poverty and enrollment shifts.

One key change in school funding is increasing the Secured Schools Safety Grant from $14 million each year to $19 million. Now, schools can seek these grants to help pay for school resource officers or equipment needed for safety such as cameras. Under the House Republican plan, districts could also use the money for mental health services for students – a recommendation from a school safety report.

While investment in traditional K-12 schools continues to rise, the budget proposal also would add millions to public charter and private voucher schools.

This would occur by increasing by $15 million a per-student Charter and Innovation School Grant that is meant to provide extra dollars for charters because they don't receive property taxes; and increasing the Scholarship Granting Organization Tax Credit used for voucher schools by $1 million the first year and $3 million the second year.

Another change would create a third tier of funding for choice scholarships, or vouchers. Now students from families with higher incomes can get a voucher for 50 percent of the money that would otherwise go to their local public school. The lowest income families get a voucher for 90 percent.

The bill creates a threshold of 70 percent funding for students with family incomes between 100 percent and 125 percent of free and reduced-price lunch levels.

The budget also taps the state surplus for some one-time spending, including $150 million in maintenance at state facilities and $10 million for voting system upgrades. The plan fully funds Medicaid and Department of Child Services requests.

The state would end with a reserve of about 11 percent of operating revenue – or $1.9 billion in savings.

“Indiana ranks among the top states in the nation for its fiscal stability and that's a result of years of strong leadership,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said. “We plan to continue this trajectory with our conservative budget proposal.”

The budget will be discussed and voted on in House Ways and Means this morning.