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Gov. Holcomb 2-year state budget ‘truly transformational’

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — Gov. Eric Holcomb said Tuesday that the Indiana House and Senate budget negotiators reached a deal on a $37.4 billion spending plan, which includes nearly $2 billion in new spending for education over the next two years.

Holcomb said a few more hurdles needed to be cleared before the budget is finalized; however, the basics are in place for a final vote and his signature.

“There’s a high level of confidence that we’re going to not just be on schedule, but ahead of schedule with a budget that we can all be proud of for the next two years,” the Republican governor said.

The biennial budget puts a lot of attention on Indiana’s public schools and increasing teacher pay. Holcomb was joined by Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray, a Republican from Martinsville, and House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers. The legislative leaders said the school funding reflects, in part, recommendations presented in December by the Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission.

“Our two-year state budget is a historic win for Hoosier students, teachers and families. In total, we increased K-12 spending by $1.9 billion over the biennium, a record investment,” Huston said. “In Year 2, the new budget will provide $600 million in additional funding to public schools annually.”

One goal of the commission’s report was to get average Indiana teacher pay more competitive with neighboring states.

Bray says the budget exceeds the commission benchmarks in terms of teacher salaries. It recommends schools set starting salaries at $40,000 a year for their first-year teachers and requires them to dedicate at least 45% of tuition support.

“We do not require the minimum salary be $40,000. But if the school doesn’t have a minimum salary for their teachers of $40,000, they have to send in a report to the Department of Education to explain that circumstance,” Bray said.

Huston says the legislature will be watching closely to see whether schools follow through on raising teacher pay.

“This is an important time for schools. I’ll just say this because we’re making a significant investment. It feels like a lot of the pressure on teacher pay has been directed at this building,” the Statehouse, Huston said. “We’ve stepped up. Now it’s time for locals to step up because we don’t really want to be more proscriptive but with the type of investments we’re making, if it doesn’t get the teacher pay, we might just have to be.”

On Wednesday, the Indiana State Teachers Association said it was pleased with the announcement. Its president, Keith Gambill, told News 8, “For our communities and families and students, it will mean that we’re able to continue to have the best  educators. We know that we’re going to be able to recruit, we’re going to be able to retain those folks which are vital. That person in the classroom, that school bust driver, cafeteria worker, all of those that are so essential to making sure that our schools run efficiently. That’s going to be very important as we move forward. All of our educators are looking, perhaps there is a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Indiana Democrats also weighed in on the budget and acknowledged what the Republican leadership has done.

“It is encouraging to see the Indiana Republican Party heeding the advice from Hoosier Democrats to fund the state’s public schools at levels not seen since Democrats last controlled the Indiana House,” said Lauren Ganapini, executive director for the Indiana Democratic Party.

However, the Democrats remained critical of the boost in funding for the school voucher program.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner called the budget a win for all Hoosier children.

“These efforts will be critical to increasing teacher pay, strengthening Indiana’s teacher pipeline, and attracting and retaining our best and brightest to this purposeful, difference-making profession,” Jenner said. “This student-centered, future-focused budget prioritizes Indiana’s schools, creating immense opportunities for every Hoosier student, in every Hoosier school, and in every Hoosier community.”

While much of the news conference focused on school funding, the governor said the 2021 biennial budget is going to invest in infrastructure, broadband, local community grants and workforce development programs. “We’re going to be able to reinvest and skill people who may be unemployed, underemployed, or simply people that are looking for a different and better career. We have the resources that are made available because of this budget to help you do just that.”

Holcomb says Indiana is coming out of the coronavirus pandemic in better financial condition than most states with the ability to pay down debt and avoid future debt, which he says can be invested in other programs, including infrastructure.

“This budget truly is transformational, transformational when it comes to investments, we’re going to make in people first and foremost,” Holcomb said. “It’s going to allow people not just to have more hope than ever, but it’s going to help them realize new opportunities in their lives.”

News 8’s David Williams contributed to this report.