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Senate Democrats assail K-12 spending plan as Indiana budget negotiations continue

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Senate Democrats on Thursday said Republicans are diverting too much of an increase in K-12 funding away from traditional public schools.

Democrats told reporters a planned expansion of school voucher eligibility alone cordons off roughly $500 million that could be used for traditional public schools. Sen. Andrea Hunley, a Democrat from Indianapolis who is a former teacher and school principal, said 70% of the students who use school choice vouchers have never attended a traditional public school in the first place. She said lawmakers would be better off allocating education funding proportionately based on the percentage of students who attend traditional public schools versus charter or private schools. Hunley said families will especially see the impact of limited funding in services such as special education assistants and translators.

“We know that at the individual school level, especially when we talk about support for our highest-need learners, that’s where we feel the biggest impact and that’s where families feel it as well,” she said.

The budget plan that passed the House at the end of February included a more than $2 billion increase in state funding for K-12 education, a number that Republicans said is a record. Both the basic funding formula and the complexity index, which is weighted for schools with high numbers of students on free and reduced-price meal plans, are slated to rise over the next two years, with most of that increase coming during the 2024 budget year that begins July 1. That doesn’t always mean a constant rise in school funding, though. Some school corporations will receive slightly less funding during the 2025 budget year than in 2024. Notably, Indianapolis Public Schools would get $1.8 million less in the latter budget year. Pike Township schools in Marion County, Anderson Community School Corp. and Evansville-Vanderburgh schools would lose $1 million, $1.4 million and $1.8 million, respectively, in the second year of the budget biennium, respectively.

Democrats also said they’re upset that, although the House budget eliminates textbook fees, it requires school corporations to come up with funding on their own rather than paying for the textbooks through state funding. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, a Republican from Martinsville, suggested his chamber might cut back on some of the House’s proposals. While he did not offer specifics, he said Senate budget writers are reviewing the House’s budget closely.

“They’ve added a lot of money to the K-12 budget, but some of that is whittled down as to what actually goes to traditional public schools because of the way they structured it, so that’s why we’re taking a look at it,” he said.

The Senate has yet to release its version of the budget. Once that step is complete, further negotiations will happen between the two chambers before a finalized spending plan goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb.