The Journal Gazette
Thursday, February 11, 2021 4:47 pm

House GOP budget has less money for public schools than what Holcomb wanted

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – House Republicans unveiled a budget Thursday that would give less money to traditional public schools than Gov. Eric Holcomb's proposal, while also funding several one-time grant programs to energize the economy.

The governor proposed $377 million new dollars in tuition support – which is then distributed to school districts using a complex formula. That was 2% growth in the first year and 1% in the second year of the biennial budget. 

The House Republican budget has $378 million in new tuition support – 1.25% in the first year and 2.5% in the second year.

But their total includes an expansion of the voucher program that will send about $65 million more to private schools over the biennium. Holcomb did not include a voucher expansion and in his State of the State address expressed concern about growing choice at the expense of public schools.

House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said parents – now more than ever – “want to make choices for their kids. They want to have options.”

Also related to school funding, the House GOP budget would increase a charter school grant, give more funding to virtual schools, increase funding for non-English speaking program and flatline teacher appreciation grants.

There is no specific money or provisions to raise teacher pay despite a state report recommending state and local actions to bring Indiana teacher compensation in line with other Midwest states. Brown said teacher pay is up to local districts.

Overall, the proposed budget would end with more than $2 billion in reserves in both years.

The biggest difference from Holcomb's budget is how the House wants to spend one-time dollars made possible through federal aid and state cuts. The governor put $300 million to payoff debt and $400 million to reduce pension obligations – both this fiscal year.

The House Republican budget gives only $110 million to debt payoff and none to pension reduction.

“We just made a different priority rather than pensions,” Brown said. “We invest in business and economic activity in the state.”

Instead, the House GOP budget would provide $150 million in one-time learning loss grants, $30 million in small business aid and $70 for a renovation of the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Academy – all this year.

Then there is more one-time spending in the new budget cycle starting in July – including $250 million in broadband expansion, $150 million to spur regional recovery projects, $50 million in health grants and $10 million to equip local officers with body cameras.

Brown also included a cigarette tax increase and implementation of new e-liquids tax in the proposed budget. But instead of a $2 hike sought by health advocates – or even $1 passed by a House health committee – it is a 50.5 cent increase making the state cigarette tax $1.50 a pack. In addition, there would be a 10% retail tax on vaping products.

He said the minimal cigarette tax increase is what the House Republican caucus could agree on, and the additional revenue of $150 million a year will go to Medicaid expenses and health grants.

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