Budget passes House after questions of education funding

By Ashley Shuler

INDIANAPOLIS – The House Republican version of the state’s two-year, $32 billion budget passed the full House Monday after questions about whether the budget is favoring charter and suburban schools over traditional public and urban schools.

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, called the House Bill 1001 budget an “honest, good appraisal” of how to spend what money the state has. He said all types of education — public, charter, virtual — remain the number one priority in the state budget, soaking up 52 percent of the overall money.

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, explains House Bill 1001 in front of the chamber Monday. He said this balanced budget, which puts education as the number one priority, maintains the state’s fiscal integrity. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com

“It was an issue of looking at prioritization of what we wanted to do,” Brown said. “We wanted to build upon programs that had been working and build from their success.”

Overall, K-12 education would see a total increase of $273 million over the next two fiscal years. The state allocates a standard amount of money to each school district based on the number of students enrolled using a formula.

Both the House Republican budget and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s original budget also give attention to the state’s pre-K pilot program, by doubling current funding to $20 million per year.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, was one of four Democrats to stand in front of the chamber asking legislators to vote against the bill. He said Republicans are wrongfully framing the budget as being all about increasing education, pointing out that the state has planned to increase education funding by the same 1.1 percent margin since the recession in 2008.

“We really want to seek common ground when it comes to our state budget,” Porter said of the House Democrat budget proposal. “A budget that I think we all can live with that we won’t have winners and losers. A budget that students will get a chance to succeed — for all students, not just for a few.”

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said this budget cuts the funding going into communities with low socioeconomic residents like his. He said Indianapolis Public Schools will lose close to $8 million in the first year and $10 million second year of the budget’s biennium.

Smith said the GOP’s budget is disparate and doesn’t provide more resources and money to the communities where students are at the most risk.

“We channel money to those who have, forgetting the have nots,” Smith said.

But Brown, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee that collectively came up with the budget, said the lack of money going to Smith’s district and those like it is not because of a decrease in state funding but because of a decrease in property tax money coming in.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said this is the first year in a 10-year path for equality that the base funding for every child, regardless of where their zip code is, is the same.

“Those who were low, we gave a glide up. Those that were very high, we put them on a path to glide down,” Bosma said. “In addition to that, we’re recognizing that basic equality so that every student in the state is embodied in this budget.”

Bosma said each student in Smith’s Gary district receives $2,300 more on top of the base dollar amount. The additional funding differs upon the complexity in each district and depends on the area’s reliability on the SNAP food assistance program, among other factors.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, urges legislators to vote against House Bill 1001. Smith, a member of the House Education Committee, said the budget shows favoritism to certain types of children in the state and cuts funding to schools in areas with low socioeconomic standing like his. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com

“We acknowledge that those children require more funding and greater effort due to their circumstances,” he said.

Aside from education, the passed budget also includes a $1 cigarette tax hike to provide road funding revenue, in line with the one that Holcomb proposed.

“You know, the state of Indiana, we’re not known as a healthy state,” Brown said. “Related to both our fiscal activity, our weight and our smoking habits. We know we’re doing this for a health policy.”

The only Republican to vote against the budget, Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he voted ‘no’ because of the lack of money going to public health initiatives.

Clere, once the chair of the Public Health Committee, said the proposed cigarette tax money, which will bring in roughly $300 million in revenue, is a “once in a generation” funding source that should be going to health organizations like the Tobacco Prevention Association — not road funding.

The road funding bill, House Bill 1002, is moving separately from the overall budget and passed last week without any Democrat support. It calls for Hoosiers to pay an additional 10 cents per gallon in gas taxes, $15 more to register vehicles and a new $150 fee for electric-powered vehicles.

Multiple amendments to the budget failed Thursday, including ones about lifting a nursing home moratorium, fixing the Statehouse elevators, and spaying and neutering pets.

The lone successful amendment by Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, added language to allow state conservation officers to be under the same pay raise system as other state police officers. The amendment passed unanimously on the House floor last week.

The budget passed the full House 68-29 Monday. Clere and 28 Democrats voted against the budget bill, which now moves to the Senate for consideration.

The two-year budget must be finished and ready for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature at the end of April.

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

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