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UPDATE: Extra tax dollars aimed at full-day kindergarten

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A projected increase in revenues will allow the state to provide funding for all Indiana school districts to offer full-day kindergarten.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republican leaders of the House and Senate announced Friday they’ll set aside $150 million for K-12 education spending, the only spending increases in the biennial budget that must be approved by the state legislature this session.

The lion’s share of that amount–roughly $100 million–would go toward the general funding provided for K-12 schools, helping to restore money cut previously. About a quarter of the $150 million will go toward full-day kindergarten, and a smaller fund–estimated between $5 million and $10 million–will help fund merit-pay raises for teachers.

A bill that has passed the Senate and is in the House would allow districts to craft plans for providing teachers raises based on their performance, rather than seniority. Daniels estimates the money set aside for raises could affect pay for thousands of teachers in the state, depending on how districts structure the criteria and how many teachers qualify.

The new education funding complements a push by Daniels and other lawmakers for broad-based education reform in the legislature, which includes increasing the number of authorizers for charter schools and providing vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools.

The governor has long endorsed full-day kindergarten and said many others agree with him. About a quarter of the state’s 5-year-olds reside in districts that don’t provide the option.

“I think it has broad support across the education spectrum,” Daniels said.

The additional $150 million is part of projected improvements in the state’s revenue forecast to be announced Friday. It’s uncertain how much of those projections will come to fruition, but Daniels said the state is confident enough in the $150 million to allow districts to plan for the additional funding this fall.

But some state lawmakers said that money just makes a dent in restoring about $300 million in cuts Daniels has made in K-12 spending over the last two years.  

“He’s restoring one out of three dollars that he cut,” said House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend. “That doesn’t rehire the teachers who were laid off around the state.”

Bauer and others also have raised concerns that other education reforms, including charters and private-school vouchers, would take resources from traditional public schools without moving enough students to make a meaningful dent in their operating expenses.

The notion of merit pay also has been controversial, with some raising questions about how teachers would be evaluated and whether the process would be too subjective.

But it’s supported by many proponents of reform, including U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He will be in Indianapolis Friday to visit a charter school with Daniels and field questions about education reform.

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