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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 1:00 am

Budget called 'a win' for schools

Funding to rise 2.5% each year as part of deal

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Legislative leaders and Gov. Eric Holcomb celebrated a strong education budget plan Tuesday – with final votes to come in both chambers today.

Funding for K-12 public schools will go up 2.5% each year, which equals about $539 million in new money over the biennium.

When adding in additional money for vouchers, charters, teacher grants and school safety that number jumps to $763 million.

“This budget is truly a win for Hoosier students, teachers and schools,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said. “With a $539 million increase in K-12 tuition support, an increase in per-student funding, and an increase in funding for our Teacher Appreciation Grants, among many other increases in education funding, we have a budget that will provide significantly more funding for our schools across the state.”

A number of education groups representing urban and rural schools, business officials and school boards also attended the Tuesday news conference in support of the final budget bill. Notably absent was the Indiana State Teachers Association and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick.

ISTA President Teresa Meredith said the budget reflects progress, saying the increases for public schools will be the largest in 11 years.

But she said the legislature remains “unwilling to expand revenue to address long-term public education funding issues and teacher pay.”

The budget handles teacher pay in three ways. First, the tuition support increase is divvied up by district and school boards negotiate pay raises. There is also a pension pay-down that frees up $70 million schools would otherwise have had to pay the state and now can put to paychecks. Lastly, teacher appreciation grant funding went from $30 million a year to $37.5 million – stipends for effective and highly effective teachers.

Holcomb said he hopes teachers are happy with this “historic investment in K-12” while a special commission considers a long-term systemic approach to salaries.

But House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta said “all that we just heard from Gov. Holcomb and Speaker (Brian) Bosma is that teachers will not be getting a pay raise this session. ... Despite Republican leadership claiming this is a historic increase in K-12 funding, it's clear that our traditional public schools will not receive the resources they need.”

Democrats note that traditional public schools – excluding charters – are getting only a 2% increase while charters are going up 10% the first year and vouchers 9%. 

Bosma said it's disappointing to hear lawmakers aren't doing enough – “but everybody's got a perspective. If you're doing this to get thanks from anybody, let me give you 33 years of advice, don't do it.”

Allen County school districts will see varied funding increases – depending on enrollment, poverty and other factors.

For instance, Southwest Allen County Schools' funding will go up 4.9% the first year and 4.3% the second year; Northwest Allen County Schools jumps 5.3% and 5.2%; Fort Wayne Community Schools goes up 2% and then 1.2%; East Allen County Schools rises 3.5% the first year and 4.15% the second year.

The budget compromise also increases a charter school grant from $500 per school to $750; expands the voucher program; and increases a tax credit for scholarship-granting organizations.

Another major issue in negotiations was the so-called 13th check for retired teachers. It is a bonus check lawmakers give annually rather than a cost-of-living adjustment.

The Senate axed the check altogether.

The final version funds it the first year out of general tax collections and the second year uses money from a pension stabilization fund. It costs about equals about $27 million.

nkelly@jg.net