INDIANAPOLIS – A move to require all Indiana students to complete a federal financial aid form is facing some opposition in the Indiana House.
The House Education Committee heard testimony about Senate Bill 223 on Wednesday and delayed a vote until next week.
“We feel this will assist in our overall pipeline of students coming into the workforce,” said Tim Brown, general counsel for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. He said Indiana students are leaving federal assistance on the table because they don't file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.
But several education groups oppose the bill and a few Republicans on the committee questioned whether a mandate is appropriate.
Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, said he is struggling with making it a mandate, saying some parents might not want to fill out a federal form with private financial data.
“We're all against mandates until it's our mandate,” he said.
The state estimates that 58% of Indiana's 2019 high school graduates completed the application. The current nationwide completion rate for high school graduates is 61%.
Tim McRoberts, associate executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said the bill would add a burden on school counselors to track who has filed the application and who hasn't. While the bill has broad opt-out provisions for parents, he was concerned school employees would still have to chase down parents for a signature opting out.
McRoberts said he filed a FAFSA for his daughter because it was required to seek other scholarships but knew she wouldn't qualify given the family income. And he said it should be a parents' choice to fill out a federal form with financial data.
McRoberts said he would support providing incentives for schools with high filing rates by tying it to school accountability. Or he suggested a two-year pilot if a mandate is pushed through.
He also provided a handout of comments from principals around the state. It included one person calling the bill garbage and another person saying no thought was given when filing the bill.
Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said some of the comments were pretty cutting and he didn't appreciate that they were anonymous.
“This is worthless,” he said of the handout.
Josh Garrison, of the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, spoke in support of the bill, saying there is an ongoing dashboard showing what percentage per school have been filed and counselors could target their efforts only on a few.
He said Indiana students lost $71.4 million federal funds last year by not filing the application for aid. And he said unequivocally the bill isn't garbage because it will help many low-income students get a post-secondary education.
Garrison said the 10 traditional public Indiana high schools with the lowest filing rate have free and reduced-price lunch rates near 70%, while the 10 schools with the highest filing rate have free and reduced-price lunch rates of just 14%.
House Education Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, also pointed to other states that have implemented a mandate that saw significant improvement.