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Indiana lawmakers advance bills to ensure school funding

Indiana lawmakers are expediting two similar bills intended to ensure schools receive full funding for all students, regardless of whether they are receiving instruction virtually or in the classroom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Jan 8, 2021 8:38 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers are expediting two similar bills intended to ensure schools receive full funding for all students, regardless of whether they are receiving instruction virtually or in the classroom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The draft bills were filed in the House and Senate at the start of the 2021 Legislative session, both redefining what constitutes a “virtual student” and ensuring there would be no reduction in per-student funding for traditionally in-person schools.

A twice-yearly count of students attending schools is used to determine how much money the state allots to each facility. According to the bills, students will not be counted as “virtual” on Feb. 1 even if most or all of their learning takes place online.

Without that change, millions of dollars would be on the line for schools offering instruction online only. Current state law caps per-pupil funding for students who take at least half their classes virtually at 85% of full in-person student funding.

That would mean school districts using hybrid formats or that only offer online instruction to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 could lose 15% of their basic per-student funding, amounting to $855 per student.

House Bill 1003 unanimously passed the Ways and Means committee Wednesday and could get passed out of the chamber as early as next week. Senate Bill 2 was heard before the Senate’s committee for Education and Career Development the same day, although it’s likely to take several weeks before it’s eligible for a vote.

“We appreciate that this is a priority of the General Assembly, and that it's moving forward quickly,” said executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, Denny Costerison, at the Statehouse Wednesday. “What we're looking for is fairness — to continue the funding that was considered to be right when the budget was passed in 2019.”

Still, the bills are temporary fixes because they would expire at the end of the spring 2021 semester. While there were requests in both committees Wednesday to extend the date for the definition change — such as for the full 2021-22 academic year — Rep. Tim Brown, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that amendment was unlikely. Instead, Brown suggested lawmakers should wait to make decisions about future school funding until after larger state budget models are discussed.

The Legislature also doesn’t face a hard deadline of passing the bills before the February count date because the money distributed based on those enrollment figures won’t be sent to school districts until later in the spring, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said.

“We would rather have this done so that the schools know going into the count how that’s going to work,” Bray said. “I feel very optimistic that this will pass both the House and the Senate with very broad support for it.”

State officials in September approved a similar method to maintain full funding for school districts during the fall semester. Legislators are now the ones tasked with finding a funding solution for the second half of the academic year.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is expected to sign the legislation. He has maintained that he’s committed to not cutting education funding — even as other state agencies have reduced budgets. He also promised school leaders last summer they would receive 100% of state funding for each of their students, no matter how they receive their instruction.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 611039

Reported Deaths: 9716
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion844351336
Lake45508685
Allen32891552
Hamilton29546315
St. Joseph27449381
Elkhart24440345
Vanderburgh19513250
Tippecanoe18043140
Johnson15140295
Porter14865169
Hendricks14440248
Madison11009222
Vigo10769181
Clark10731144
Monroe9424113
Delaware9152134
LaPorte9103164
Howard8268144
Kosciusko808983
Warrick676599
Hancock6741104
Bartholomew6523100
Floyd6469110
Wayne6157162
Grant6011116
Dubois556980
Boone554668
Morgan545795
Henry509764
Marshall505384
Cass485264
Dearborn483245
Noble474059
Jackson426747
Shelby419581
Lawrence392980
Clinton374243
Gibson372559
Harrison350945
DeKalb348264
Montgomery346554
Knox335839
Miami323044
Steuben314545
Whitley309726
Wabash304551
Adams302136
Ripley300046
Putnam297850
Huntington293159
Jasper290534
White274143
Daviess271274
Jefferson264738
Decatur248983
Fayette247848
Greene241162
Posey240328
Wells236451
LaGrange229662
Scott225739
Clay223532
Randolph214948
Jennings199336
Sullivan192933
Spencer192422
Washington187523
Fountain184627
Starke175643
Jay168223
Owen166837
Fulton164230
Orange160835
Carroll159115
Rush155818
Perry155229
Vermillion149334
Franklin149033
Tipton133033
Parke13088
Pike118226
Blackford111422
Pulaski97337
Newton91721
Brown88235
Benton86910
Crawford8069
Martin74413
Warren6857
Switzerland6665
Union6287
Ohio4957
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