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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:55 pm

Schools chief seeks more money

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz on Thursday asked legislative budget leaders for about $560 million in new education funding over the next two years.

"We want equity wherever you go," she said. Ritz said that kids should get similar educational experiences regardless on their economic status or community they live in.

Ritz presented the information to the State Budget Committee on Thursday during hearings in preparation for the 2015 legislative session.

The majority of the new money – about $334 million – is in tuition support for the state’s K-12 schools. That is an increase of about 3 percent over the biennium.

But the bigger fight will be how the dollars are distributed. Lawmakers use a complicated school funding formula that over time has resulted in wide variations in per- pupil funding.

Many GOP legislators want the funding to be equalized – giving more money to growing districts and less to urban districts.

Republicans running both the House and Senate have also said education is their priority. Indiana spends more than half its overall state budget on K-12 education. The current level of state tuition support is $6.6 billion.

But they had hard questions regarding a key goal for Ritz, a Democrat – free textbooks for all children in the state.

The state provides about $39 million in textbook relief for poor children every year. But that amount hasn’t changed in eight years.

Indiana is one of only eight states to charge textbook fees.

Ritz is seeking $129 million a year, a number that surprised Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

"I’m struggling to share that goal with you," he said.

Kenley and House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, also quizzed Ritz on tests that are given to students, expressing frustration over the number of them.

"How did we get to this?" Brown asked while waiving the two-sided list of assessments.

Ritz said that several of them are state-mandated, such as a third-grade reading test, the ISTEP+ test and end-of-course assessments. Others are required by the federal government.

And another set are formative tests given optionally by schools to assess a student’s growth.

Kenley asked for a recommendation on which ones lawmakers could eliminate, and Ritz said she would review it for him.

"Well, we always need less tests in my perspective," she said.