INDIANAPOLIS — The two-year state budget opened the House floor Monday to many different opinions from Democrats on how Indiana should be spending its money as the budget passed on to the Senate with a 65-30 vote.
The budget consists of $36 billion for two years that the State of Indiana uses to fund police, schools, assistance programs and much more.
The long-time chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said he is proud of this budget.
“Let us have a vision of employing Hoosiers and giving credit to businesses and helping businesses getting out of this recession going forward. That is what we’re going to do,” Brown said.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said in his weekly COVID-19 news conference on Feb. 17 that he and the House diverge on some ways to use the money set in the budget.
“There are places, yes, that we disagree on the budget. There are places where, quite frankly, the House’s budget invested more than I was recommending,” Holcomb said.
The budget increases funding for education by $378 million over two years but does not give raises for teachers in public schools. The money will primarily increase the private school voucher program over the next two years.
A voucher in Indiana provides scholarships for students who need help paying for tuition at certain non-public schools and are awarded based on a list of criteria, including income eligibility. As of 2019, a voucher’s value was $4,449, according to EdChoice, an organization that supports the expansion of school choice programs. The average cost of tuition for a private school in Indiana is $5,100 according to EducationData.org.
About 47% of families are income eligible statewide, and there are about 36,290 students involved in the voucher program as of 2019, according to EdChoice.
Indiana now has one of the biggest voucher programs in the country.
Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, spoke Monday against the increase of funding for the voucher program.
“We don’t just fund a student, we fund a community,” Hamilton said. “This budget continues the destructive trend of taking more money away from our public community schools and continuing to underfund particular special-education and low-income students as well as the professional educators, the dedicated teachers that support all of our students.”
Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, a former public school teacher, does not agree with the budget that passed.
“Our state right now is not prioritizing and valuing teachers,” Klinker said. “The budget does not reflect the investment our teachers put into our classrooms, and it does not value their health as we are asking them to return in person.”
Other areas of concern
Several House Democrats spoke on Monday about how they feel the budget does not provide enough assistance for Hoosiers. The budget leaves a $1.2 billion surplus in the first year, which is extra money left over that is not being spent, something Republicans have made a tradition to prepare Indiana for disasters.
Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, stressed the importance of assisting Hoosiers in need now.
“Basic human needs that we need to meet, and this budget just isn’t there,” Porter said. “We can do a lot better.”
Porter mentioned how food banks are struggling to keep up with the high demands. At the beginning of 2020, there were 181,810 people in Marion County seeking assistance, according to the CEO and president of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, John Elliott.
“COVID-19 is already devastating the Hoosier State, but the supermajority’s budget will make it even more difficult to recover for years to come,” Porter said in a written statement on Tuesday.
Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, also spoke out against the budget, saying it is not fair for Hoosiers.
“We need a vision of equitable legislation, and we’re not doing it,” Boy said. “Our legislation, a lot of times even our budget, it is not equitable, and that is not right. We are the leaders here in this state, and we need to start thinking about every single Hoosier.”