Senate committee approves K-12 funding fix

By Erica Irish
TheStatehouseFile.com

 INDIANAPOLIS—A Senate committee Thursday approved legislation that would ensure Indiana’s K-12 schools have enough funds for all students.

The Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed Senate Bill 189, authored by committee chair Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, which would permit a transfer from the state tuition reserve fund to cover the cost of all enrolled students and, by extension, prevent schools from making cuts.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed similar legislation Wednesday. Both bills would resolve an issue that arose in the current academic year when Indiana’s public schools enrolled more than 6,000 students than expected.

Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, discusses K-12 funding. Senators met to listen to testimony Thursday morning. Photo by John Ward, TheStatehouseFile.com

Early in the hearing, Mishler amended the bills from a suggestion to supply the extra funds to a mandate by replacing the word “may” with “shall.” The measure would now require the state to provide the funding if the needed aid is less than a $25 million cap.

“The only way to really make sure that it’s taken care of is to make it a ‘shall,'” Mishler said. “Now, if this passes, at least our language, in any shortfall up to $25 million the budget agency has to transfer the money.”

Though the committee approved SB 189 in a 12-0 vote, several senators left with questions unanswered.

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, among others, wanted more information on where the 6,351 new public-school students are coming from.

While testifying for the Legislative Services Agency, Senior Fiscal Analyst Whitney Bross said there are several possible sources of the growth. But, without more specific data, they are difficult to confirm.

New student enrollment in kindergarten, inter-state migration and transfers from choice or charter schools to traditional public-school programs are all possibilities, Bross said.

Online education programs are also now encouraging at-risk and homeschool students to stay in the public-school system, she added.

“Overall, this is a point-2 percent change, so it’s really tiny in terms of our total number of students,” Bross said.

Adam Baker, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, said the movement of students into public schools is difficult to assess because most of the reporting is up to district officials, whose differing processes and enrollment forms make data collection a challenge.

However, the DOE is compiling a first-ever report on student transfer data, Baker said.

As his bill moves forward, Mishler said the intent of SB 189 and its counterpart, House Bill 1001, is the same.

“We’re trying to get to the same concept and back fill the reduction in the foundation due to the additional students,” Mishler said.

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

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