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The General Assembly swung back into action this week after a few days of post-third reading respite. House and Senate bills passed around the deadlines were assigned to committees in their second chambers to start the process of hearings, amendments and floor action over again.

Even though action on the budget shifts to the Senate, the Ways & Means Committee got off to the quickest start, amending and passing SB2 (the Senate fix protecting schools that shifted to remote learning from funding cuts) on Monday for second reading on Thursday.  (The House version, HB1003, hasn’t been scheduled for an Education & Career Development hearing yet.)

Senate Appropriations did meet on Thursday – call it a warm-up before diving into the budget, as they heard and passed HB1004, the Recovery Restart Small Business Grant program.

Wait-and-see…

On Wednesday, SB54 was heard and held in committee: This requires graduating high school seniors to complete the FAFSA to understand the financial aid resources available for college – we need to strengthen our post-secondary talent pipeline, and Commission for Higher Education officials note that completion rates are down…it’s a common-sense move with broad support.

It’s also a cautionary tale. The same legislation was killed last year because House leaders didn’t like how one of their education bills was amended in the Senate (it was cursed by cursive, you could say).

That’s part of the process as bills swap chambers and serious budget negotiations loom. There’s some wait-and-see, a little intramural sparring – like a game of high-stakes policy poker as leaders on both sides of the rotunda look at the cards they’re holding.

We’re also playing the waiting game on a number of bills:

  • Most notably, SB141 was assigned to the Roads and Transportation Committee; on Wednesday, IndyGo president Inez Evans offered an update to the Indianapolis City-County Council on this destructive proposal to strip local tax dollars for bus rapid transit routes, endangering even more federal funding and related infrastructure investments;
  • So it’s time to mobilize again on behalf of parents sending their children to a charter or choice school (but needing reliable transportation), veterans getting free trips for daily necessities, homeowners along Washington and 38th Streets desperate for new sidewalks and curbs, and anyone using transit to get to work – make no mistake, this bill is an assault on all of them, and our entire community;
  • A bill we probably won’t have to wait long for is HB1006, which gets a Senate committee hearing this Tuesday and continues to cruise with bipartisan support for common-sense law enforcement reforms.

We’re waiting for the next move on HB1001, the state budget – the Senate will keep us in suspense a little longer before releasing their version of the two-year, $36.4 billion (give or take) plan. One of the biggest issues, obviously, is K-12 education funding.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

That’s the relationship between the state education funding formula and the budgets of local schools – complicated. It’s a foregone conclusion that at least half of the next budget will go towards K-12, but how the dollars are divided is crucial. We want to take a detour into the math, and how it adds up for our agenda:

  • About $18 billion of the $36+ billion budget goes to elementary and secondary education, including $15.4 billion in direct tuition support – this is money that “follows the student” to support local schools based on enrollment.
  • However, tuition support is divided into categories, starting with the foundation grant (the core funding that’s assigned to every student); conditional funding is added to foundation for students in special education, enrolled in career and technical education or earning an honors diploma.
  • But most notably, a “complexity” grant is added for students living in poverty – recognizing that family resources and opportunities beyond the classroom impact educational achievement, and that additional funding is needed to help students overcome challenging circumstances.
  • Specifically, students in households enrolled in federal poverty programs (SNAP and TANF) or in foster care are counted to arrive at complexity funding per school corporation – complexity makes a big difference for urban districts like IPS, which serve a larger percentage of at-risk students…complexity is also meaningful to many rural school systems with widespread poverty.
  • The House flatlines complexity per student at $3,675 (where it’s been since 2019) while the foundation per student grows to $7,144 by 2023. It also limits the growth of total complexity per school district to 2.5%, to smooth out the surge in SNAP benefits during COVID that would otherwise be reflected in the numbers.

House leaders argue COVID would create spikes in complexity funding without adjusting the formula, making it harder for districts to budget for the future, while maximizing the foundation grant benefits all students.

We respectfully note that complexity has steadily declined as a percentage of total K-12 funding, hitting districts like IPS even as they’ve closed high schools and pursued other efficiencies. Another example based on 2022 and ’23 projections: Wayne Township Schools and Hamilton Southeastern share a similar enrollment trend, but Wayne sees half the two-year funding increase under the complexity cap.

Strengthening the complexity index is on our legislative agenda because education is a powerful catalyst for equity and inclusion in our talent-driven economy, and investing in vulnerable students now could make a big difference in long-term employment, earnings and upward mobility. The Senate K-12 Funding Subcommittee meets next week, and we expect a different approach to emerge.

Scoreboard!

Education is an investment in our people and our economy; what happens in classrooms today shapes our workforce of the future.

And the future looks bright in a lot of ways. The March issue of Site Selection Magazine, a leading economic development journal, ranks the Indianapolis region #1 among major metros (more than a million population) in business attraction and expansion projects per capita in 2020. In total projects, we jumped to #5 among major metros from #9 in 2019.

We have plenty of longer-term economic challenges, but this ranking is a positive barometer of our resilience through COVID, in tandem with an aggressive public-private push to deploy CARES Act and other capital sources to help local businesses manage through the pandemic.

It’s also a reminder that Indianapolis continues to be the economic engine of the state. Efforts to defund transit and divide our city by exploiting issues of housing and public safety only dilute the fuel that drives us forward – hopefully this isn’t a lasting legacy of this pandemic session.

P.S. on Public Health:

You know public health also has a key spot on our legislative agenda – a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. It’s why we’re pushing for a breakthrough on cigarette taxes in this budget, to cut smoking rates and boost revenues for health programs, for example.

HB1007, which creates a $50 million state health issues and challenges grant program (also reflected in the House budget) was heard in committee this week, as another mechanism to invest in healthier Hoosiers.

We can also take action on these issues outside the Statehouse, which is why we’re helping our friends at the Indiana Chamber collect data for their Indiana Workforce Recovery initiative, with a survey specific to mental health and substance abuse issues in the workplace – take a few minutes to participate in the survey here.

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