Senate panel approves bill to fully fund virtual instruction

Taylor Wooten/TheStatehouseFile.comChair: State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, is the chair of the senate education and career development committee and an author of Senate Bill 2. The bill was introduced at a Jan. 6 meeting and passed unanimously in committee Wednesday. 

In a unanimous vote, an Indiana Senate committee decided to fully fund schools teaching students online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 2 responds to a debate that began when many traditional schools had to switch to online instruction. Students who spent at least half their time learning virtually only brought 85% of the state funding per student, rather than the 100% of funding given to in-person students.

The law threatened to take away funding from public and charter schools that had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican lawmakers prioritized changing the rule, and now the bill is quickly moving through the Indiana legislature.

The bill was authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, the chair of the Senate education and career development committee, Sen. Brian Buchanan, R-Monticello, and Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn.

When the committee took testimony Jan. 6, many lawmakers and education advocates showed support for the bill.

“We hope this moves quickly so our schools can have a bit of assurance,” said John O’Neal, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association, while testifying to lawmakers.

But others questioned how the bill might affect the bigger picture around online learning. Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said she’s concerned about learning loss for students who don’t have quality broadband access or engaged parents.

“Are we encouraging schools to not go with classroom instruction?” Leising asked.

The bill would only change the law until 2021. Some lawmakers took issue with this choice, given that the pandemic could disrupt instruction in the fall and beyond.

The bill received a 12-0 vote with a quick amendment to remedy a technicality. The amended bill will move on to the Senate appropriations committee.

Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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