Indiana Department of Education officials presented their two-year budget proposal to the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. It includes large increases to the Non-English Speakers Fund, textbook relief funding, and tuition support.
Deputy State Superintendent Danielle Shockey, along with several high-ranking DOE staff members, called for an additional $140 million in funding for textbook relief and more than $12 million to fund non-English speaking students.
The DOE, headed Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, also requested roughly $335 million in added tuition support for public schools – a 3-percent increase over funding in the current biennium.
In his budget proposal for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, Gov. Mike Pence also requested a 3-percent increase in total education funding, although the way he plans to dole out the additional dollars doesn’t exactly align with the DOE’s anticipated uses.
“I think by the governor matching our dollars, we probably hit the mark pretty closely,” Shockey said. “So I think that is exciting to us, but as I did mention, some of the concerns about the fact that we matched the dollar increase… (is) we want those 3 percent to be felt in the classrooms.
“We are worried about some of the ways he is suggesting the 3 percent would be skimmed off in other ways. So again, our research gets those dollars to the classrooms, all to public schools to students,” Shockey said.
In 2013, the General Assembly also approved a 3-percent increase – 2 percent in the first year and 1 percent in the second – to education funding for the current biennium, but House leaders have said they will seek more school funding this session than both Pence and the DOE have requested.
“We believe we can do better than that, we can invest more,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday. “In fact, we’ve committed to invest more in public school education funding than what we did in the last biennium.”
Shockey said her department used historical data to determine the amount of money to request from the state.
“While I’m not the budget expert, I do know it was based on research and history, and a reasonable amount that we thought would actually potentially be a successful amount,” Shockey said.
The DOE also requested a total of $30 million in next two fiscal years to be put toward a technology fund and used to increase Internet connectivity and online security in schools across the state.
During the meeting, conversation shifted to the additional costs the state might accrue if the DOE decides to hire a third party to design new statewide testing programs.
Shockey said she anticipates the total cost of the testing redesign to reach $65 million, but expects the full amount might not be allotted to the DOE by the time the budget is finalized.
“I think we based our estimates on the best research that we have,” Shockey said. “If the estimate is large and the state cannot fund the full amount, we know that there are ways that we can combine assessments (to reduce costs).”
The Ways and Means Committee will continue to hear budget requests in the coming weeks and will begin developing a draft of the state’s financial plan for the next biennium.