House panel OKs additional funding to meet public school growth

When more than 6,000 extra students showed up in Indiana’s public schools last fall, there wasn’t enough money in local school budgets to handle them.

On Wednesday, the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee took a step toward addressing that funding shortfall by approving House Bill 1001, which would allow the state to transfer up to $25 million in additional funds to K-12 schools to meet the tuition needs of all enrolled students in 2018. In 2019, that ceiling would double to $50 million.

HB 1001 passed the committee 22-0.

The bill, authored by Rep. Sally Siegrist, R-West Lafayette, is the House’s first response to an unexpected 6,315-student increase in public school enrollment.

“The good news here is that our public schools are growing,” Siegrist said. “The fears of an exodus to choice schools seem to be unfounded at this point.”

Money would be pulled from the existing state tuition reserve fund. This fund is stocked with $348 million for supplementary purposes, Siegrist said.

The $25 million and $50 million caps for additional state aid were based on enrollment projections across Indiana’s public schools.

Siegrist said the allowances are large enough to account for special education students and Mitch Daniels Early Graduation Scholarship recipients—the number of which are still unknown to legislators.

Some of the state’s largest school districts, including Carmel-Clay and Hamilton Southeastern, would face more than $100,000 in cuts without help from the state.

Officials from Hamilton Southeastern Schools said they support HB 1001.

“It will go toward fully funding the state funding formula, so we do not experience a reduction in per-pupil funding,” district officials said in a written statement.

Indianapolis Public Schools would be rocked by a significant shortfall.

“Over the last several years, public school funding has undergone multiple shifts,” IPS officials said in a statement.  “Whether it is the per-pupil allocation, federal support or property tax caps, Indianapolis Public Schools has and will continue to find ways to serve our students well.  We look forward to seeing how HB 1001 impacts schools.”

Because it is illegal for public schools to operate at a deficit, cuts would be unavoidable for the many schools without the additional funds.

Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, noted Siegrist’s bill offers total coverage for public students.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider similar legislation—Senate Bill 189, authored by Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen—Thursday.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said helping Indiana’s public schools is a priority for House Republicans.

“We’ll ensure both this year and next year that the funds they are anticipating will come their way,” Bosma said while revealing the House legislative agenda on Jan. 4.

Siegrist is confident her bill will move forward in the House chamber.

“I can’t imagine that there would be opposition to fully funding our public education, our K-12 students” she said.

Dionte Coleman contributed to this report.

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