News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

April 16, 2011

Education funding boost

Daniels asks GOP leaders to add $150M to budget

INDIANAPOLIS — After two years of budgetary bad news, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivered a dose of good news Friday: Millions of dollars more than expected are rolling into the state treasury.

The result, he said, is more money available for K-12 education.

At a press conference with Republican legislative leaders, Daniels said he’s asked them to add $150 million to the budget bill to spend on K-12 education. He wants nearly $38 million of that to go into expanding full-day kindergarten around the state.

Daniels also wants to spend about $10 million on merit pay for teachers who excel in their jobs.

The added dollars would boost a K-12 education budget that had been flat-lined for the next two years.

It follows a $300 million hit that K-12 funding had suffered last year due to a deep decline in state tax revenues brought on by the recession.

Daniels called the $150 million a “discipline dividend” that’s now possible to pay because of the state’s austerity over the last two years.

Statehouse Republicans greeted the news with enthusiasm, but their Democrat colleagues were a bit more skeptical. 

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer issued a statement that started with: “We are thankful that some sanity has been restored to school funding, but they are only small steps back to where we belong.” Bauer said the restored funding would still fall short of the millions of dollars that had been cut from school budgets in recent years.

Daniels announcement came just hours before he was scheduled to make a public appearance with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a charter school in Indianapolis.

And it came shortly before state budget analysts unveiled details of their new revenue forecast that shows Indiana is on pace to collect $28 billion in taxes over the next two-year budget period. That’s nearly $650 million more than lawmakers thought they’d have when the legislative session began.

Daniels said he wanted the bulk of those unexpected revenues to go into the state’s reserves as a caution against a fiscal calamity that could hit again if the economy falters.

The governor was most enthused about the money he wants earmarked for expanding a state grant program that helps local school districts pay for full-day kindergarten. 

About 75 percent of Indiana schools currently offer full-day kindergarten. Daniels said the additional money he wants spent would be enough to cover the remaining 25 percent.

But how those numbers would work is complicated and it prompted questions to the state Department of Education from media and legislators alike on Friday, following Daniels’ press conference. 

The state currently distributes about  $58.5 million annually to the school districts that offer full-day kindergarten. But some schools say that’s not enough and they charge parents an additional fee for their children to attend full-day kindergarten. And some school districts use private donations to supplement the cost of their full-day kindergarten program. 

Whether the $37.5 million that Daniels wants to set aside to expand full-day kindergarten is enough to both cover new programs and pay more for the existing ones remains unknown, state DOE officials said. That’s because it depends on a multitude of factors, including the costs incurred by each school district to offer a full-day kindergarten program and the number of students enrolled.

What the additional funding will do is to expand the pot of money dedicated to funding full-day kindergarten in Indiana. State DOE Communications Director Stephanie Sample said there would likely be two effects from the funding increase: Schools that don’t currently offer full-day kindergarten may start them, and schools that currently have full-day programs may receive slightly more funding from the state.

State funding for full-day kindergarten has increased significantly in recent years. DOE officials said  funding of the state’s grant program that supports full-day kindergarten has increased more than $50 million from 2005 to 2011. The number of students served by the program has gone from 10,200 children in 2005-2006 to more than 56,800 children this school year.

Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for the Tribune-Star. Reach her at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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