Pence signs $31 billion, two-year budget bill

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Gov. Mike Pence signed a two-year, $31.3 billion state budget into law on Thursday surrounded by students at Perry Worth Elementary School in Boone County.

The bill means $460 million more for public schools and private school vouchers, plus another $20 million in extra funding for charter schools.

And it will send larger portions of that total pot to places like Lebanon Community Schools, where Perry Worth is located. That’s because the budget seeks to close the gap between higher-funded schools in urban areas that are losing students and lower-funded ones in suburban areas that are gaining them.

“This budget is about many things, but it’s really about education,” Pence said.

The governor and Republican lawmakers considered the 2015 session to be an “education session.” The spending plan allocates 2.3 percent more for schools in fiscal year 2016 and again in FY 2017.

“We are expanding support of education from our pre-K education to all the way through adult second chance high schools in this state,” Pence said.

But Democrats argue the budget will hurt urban school districts.

“How, if this is the largest increase in school funding in state history as Republicans claim, did some schools still lose funding?” Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said.

The budget leaves $1.8 billion in the bank. Although that’s lower than the $2 billion that Pence proposed in his budget, the governor said he is comfortable with that amount. “We are very confident that … Indiana will maintain our AAA bond rating,” Pence said.

The governor signed the budget at a table in the school’s gym, where he was flanked by House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown and Senate Tax Chairman Brandt Hershman

The budget bill also:

– Allocates $80 million for local community corrections programs, which are expected to see substantially more inmates under a sentencing reform passed last year.

– Funds the governor’s regional cities initiative, which will provide grants to the state’s medium sized communities for growth and quality of life initiatives. The program will be funded by a state tax amnesty program.

– Allocates an extra $100 million each year – above the normal stream of highway funding – to special road projects. And it allows the State Budget Committee to approve more.

– Authorizes the state – if the money is available – to pay off loans it owes the federal government for unemployment payments the state couldn’t make during the last economic downturn.

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