Holcomb Budget

Gov. Holcomb discussing state budget in the House Chamber.

The latest version of the state’s biennial budget boasts $763 million in new money to be spent on K-12 education, a sign that, to some public officials, the end is in sight for this session’s contentious budget debate.

“As we’re working on these short-term, immediate needs, we’re simultaneously working on a long-term plan that systemically improves teacher pay,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb, joining Republican legislative leaders to unveil the latest budget proposal at a press conference Tuesday. “We have proven this session that we have listened to our constituents, we have set responsible goals, and we have built consensus over the last four months.”

The $763 million breaks down into a variety of programs, primarily a 2.5 percent base increase to K-12 tuition support, totaling $178 million in fiscal year 2019, and a 2.5 percent increase in fiscal year 2020, adding up to $361 million.

The 2.5 percent increase in base tuition support will include all schools, including charter, virtual charter and choice schools.

This translates into a 10 percent increase in charter school funding each fiscal year, as well as a 5 percent funding increase for virtual schools in fiscal year 2019 and a 9 percent increase in fiscal year 2020, according to an analysis by the Legislative Services Agency.

Coupled with the sweeping appropriations offered in the budget, including a more than $261 million appropriation to cover extra funding in the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), lawmakers expect to maintain more than $2 billion in its reserves, a main priority for Republican leadership.

The new budget, as outlined in a conference committee report on House Bill 1001, also calls for the legislature to designate a summer study committee to analyze complexity index funding for schools. Complexity funding identifies additional financial needs in schools by measuring poverty indicators, such as the number of students living in households on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

School administrators from rural, urban and suburban school districts were also present to laud the latest budget, which Republican leadership repeatedly said strengthens K-12 education with historic appropriations for school growth.

Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, noted the updated proposal satisfies all major points touted by his and at least five other education organizations, including the Indiana School Boards Association, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents and more.

“We appreciate that the decision was to fund public education,” Costerison said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, also praised the widespread support.

“I cannot recall a time when we’ve had the rural schools, the urban schools, the suburban schools and the superintendents’ association all together to say something has been very successful,” Bosma said.

Absent from the conference were representatives for the state’s leading teachers’ union, the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), and individual educators. Though the association couldn’t be reached by publication, the organization wrote in a tweet that it was never invited to the press conference.

While majority leaders said ISTA was involved in budget negotiations throughout the session, Bosma said administrative associations, not educators, provided more “reasonable goals” that aligned with their party’s commitment to pass a balanced budget with strong reserves.

Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, the minority chair on the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said he and his party will continue to oppose a budget that lacks a meaningful increase in direct classroom funding, such as a mandatory teacher pay raise.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Porter said. “They’re still concerned about the AAA bonding and having $2 billion in reserves…I’m very concerned that the dollars they want are for the projects they’re concerned about, not the holistic needs of everybody.”

Porter’s concern follows an announcement by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) Tuesday morning that revealed almost 15 academic areas experiencing teacher shortages in the state. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, the state’s top education leader, blamed these shortages on the lack of substantial teacher pay increases.

“Sadly, ‘Indiana’ and ‘Teacher Shortage’ have become synonymous terms,” McCormick said in a press release. “This also highlights the greater issue that Indiana’s educators deserve better pay and more practitioner-inclusive legislation in order to attract and retain them.”

Costerison, however, said the legislature made the right decision by leaving salary increases up to the discretion of individual school districts.

“We want to focus on teacher salaries as part of where this new money goes,” Costerison said. “We appreciate that in this budget, there’s no pointing fingers or saying you shall do this or shall not do that. It’s still a local control issue.”

Holcomb called K-12 education a top priority in the budget that will contribute to long-term workforce development and outside investment.

“The first place that we go to in our state investments is to educate our children, pre-K through happy retirement,” Holcomb said. “This is kind of a congratulations in advance…But we’re in a very strong position.”

Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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