The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 8:15 am

Budget boosts school spending

Niki Kelly The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The GOP-led House and Senate gave the green light late Wednesday to a new two-year state budget giving IPFW millions in extra aid and substantially increasing K-12 funding.

The $31 billion budget deal would leave a surplus of $1.86 billion and increase dollars for K-12 schools by about 2.3 percent each year, or $460 million total.

The Republican supermajorities negotiated the final compromise on House Bill 1001. The Senate approved the bill 40-9, and all area senators supported it. The House voted 69-30 for the budget.

"It is the education session, and we accomplished a great deal," said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Locally, all school districts are set to receive slight to modest increases.

Kathy Friend, chief financial officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools, was thankful for lawmakers who listened to districts’ concerns and made changes in the final version of the budget to soften the blow of some changes to the funding formula used to distribute the money.

"FWCS is pleased with the new school funding formula. It provides an increase of 0.4 percent the first year and 2.1 percent the second year. Part of this increase comes from fully funding full-day kindergarten," she said. "Also, the foundation is now greater than 2009 levels. We also appreciate additional funding provided for our English Language Learners."

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said her caucus signed off on the budget conference committee report – a first – but there are still problems. She said the main issue is that the school funding formula isn’t fair to all schools – especially those struggling to serve low-income kids.

IPFW also fared well in the state budget, garnering an extra $10 million for deferred maintenance projects in the final version.

The campus’ operational funding goes from $39 million in 2015 to $41.3 million in 2016 and $41.8 million in 2017.

But more importantly, the final budget contains a provision establishing the university as a multi-system metropolitan university and calls for an in-depth study between Indiana and Purdue universities to determine the proper future for IPFW. Some of the issues involve determining the proper level of funding, offering more degrees and increased on-campus housing.

Purdue currently has oversight of the campus, and local officials have been pushing behind the scenes to have IU take over.

In the budget, the General Assembly urges the governor to appoint at least one resident of Allen County to the Board of Trustees of Purdue University.

Long said efforts finally came to fruition to help transform IPFW, thanks in part to the leadership of Purdue University President Mitch Daniels.

Concerning criminal justice, the legislature settled on $80 million in new funding to help local governments deal with an influx of low-level offenders no longer going to the Indiana Department of Correction.

The money can be used for addiction and mental health treatment; probation services; in-home electronic monitoring and other local programs.

The new justice reinvestment grants will require quarterly reports to the legislature regarding the effectiveness of the grants.

But lawmakers did not give Pence the $51 million he sought for building new prisons.

Concerning hospitals, the final version of the budget eliminated a large property tax cut for a handful of for-profit hospitals, including three in Allen County.

Instead of a $4 million statewide tax cut, the budget contains a 10 percent income tax credit. The provision affects 11 hospitals in the state.

Locally, they include four hospitals owned by Lutheran Health Network – Lutheran, St. Joseph, Dupont and Kosciusko Community – as well as Bluffton Memorial.

"The goal is triggering a larger discussion about for-profit and nonprofit hospitals. Many believe there is no difference between them except one pays taxes and one doesn’t," Long said.

He expects future discussions to revolve around a payment in lieu of taxes.


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