INDIANAPOLIS — An amended version of an Indiana House bill threatening Jeffersonville’s Promise is now heading to a full House vote after sailing through a Ways and Means committee hearing Monday morning. It passed 19-1.
H.B. 1596 is authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. In this latest amended version of the bill — its fourth revision — Clere added language that allows greater flexibility in the requirements when using TIF dollars to fund educational programs.
Jeffersonville's Promise is a city initiative that was introduced by Mayor Mike Moore last fall offering free tuition to Ivy Tech for qualified Jeffersonville High School students starting with the class of 2019. The city of Jeffersonville, through its redevelopment commission, has pledged to commit a total of $750,000 in TIF dollars over the next five years to fund the program.
While the bill's language has changed considerably after multiple revisions, the new wording has not loosened the requirements enough to allow Jeffersonville's Promise to stand as it is currently written.
Clere and the bill's co-authors' Karen Engleman, R-Corydon, and Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Lizton, are trying to prevent the use of TIF for Jeffersonville's Promise and similar programs that may be inspired by the educational initiative, which is the first of its kind in the state.
One of Clere's concerns with Jeffersonville’s Promise is that, among other things, it is not for all students who live in Jeffersonville – just qualifying Jeff High students only. This does not cover students living in Jeffersonville who attend private schools, charter schools or who are homeschooled.
The amended version of H.B. 1596 still puts structure around the use of TIF dollars, with the focus on ensuring any educational program funded by redevelopment commissions is open to all qualified individuals regardless of educational background.
Another stipulation of the bill is that any educational program using TIF dollars is tightly aligned with workforce development, which includes ensuring the program is designed to fulfill the workforce needs of employers or prospective employers.
Jeffersonville's Promise does not work directly with employers; it is open to students participating in all programs offered by Ivy Tech.
It took only about 15 minutes for the amended H.B. 1596 to pass through Monday's committee hearing.
This was in stark contrast to the legislation’s last committee hearing Feb. 9, which included nearly two hours of often-contentious testimonies for and against the amended bill — mostly from local Southern Indiana community leaders — before the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee.
It eventually passed that committee by an 8-3 vote. While en route to the House floor after that victory, the bill was detoured to the Ways and Means committee.
Monday's hearing did not include any testimony — just Clere reviewing the tweaks he has made to it. There was little discussion on the bill or its changes before it passed.
After the hearing, Clere said the latest amendment added even more clarity and additional flexibility to the bill.
One key area the legislator changed was verbiage that now says a program must require “participants to complete satisfactory progress toward obtaining a degree or certificate” instead of "complete" a degree or certificate.
JEFF’S PROMISE STILL AT-RISK
Despite massaging the bill’s language, Clere’s changes still do not permit Jeffersonville’s Promise to make the cut with H.B. 1596.
“As I’ve said before, there’s nothing in this bill that would prevent Jeffersonville from partnering with schools and employers to provide workforce training,” Clere said.
However, he said, “The legislation would not allow programs that lack workforce alignment and accountability to taxpayers.”
And, those are two areas that Clere believes Jeff’s educational initiative lacks. However, he said Jeffersonville’s Promise doesn’t have to be completely dismantled.
“… Jeff could still offer a program. There is no need for any student to miss an opportunity as a result of this legislation,” the legislator said.
“In fact, the bill would help ensure that education or training leads to a job. That’s good for students, employers and taxpayers.”
However, Jeffersonville’s mayor takes issue with Clere’s comment, saying the legislator is out of touch with the needs of his city.
“The man has absolutely no understanding of what we're dealing with on a daily basis,” Moore said. “…If you’ve got a business background, you would not make the statement Ed Clere has made. He does not understand our economy.”
Moore said he believes it’s not wise to build educational programs around specific companies and their needs because these businesses could easily leave the community.
More so, the mayor said, he can't predict the future. “We don't know what companies will be coming to Jeff in the next five years. So, to ask us to identify a company and say we are going to train these kids to fit your job, well those jobs may not be there five years from now.”
While Moore disagrees with the bill’s language that stipulates the workforce alignment with companies, the mayor did say he would be willing to adjust who in the city benefits from the program.
“I’m happy to expand Jeffersonville’s Promise,” he said. “I need employees for the businesses in Jeffersonville. So, I'm willing to extend it to any kid who lives in Jeff and possibly goes to Rock Creek, Silver Creek, Providence. I’m fine with that,” he said.
However, Moore did say that Ivy Tech still would be the only college Jeffersonville’s Promise covers. “We could not afford it with other colleges,” he said.
Besides, the mayor believes Ivy Tech degrees meet the needs of the technology and manufacturing businesses that are coming to Jeffersonville, saying, “It’s a two-year degree that fits in perfectly with the economy of Jeffersonville.”
For those students who would qualify for the scholarship, the mayor said they can take advantage of Jeffersonville's Promise at Ivy Tech and then take the credits to a four-year degree, if they desire.
“Get your first two years at Ivy Tech for free," he said. "We're happy to pay for that.”
While Moore is disappointed by Monday’s decision by the Ways and Means committee to move forward the legislation that threatens Jeffersonville’s Promise, he stressed he isn’t giving up the fight to keep the initiative alive.
“I want to make it clear that my frustration is with Ed Clere and the ones driving this,” he said. “I am hopeful that the state legislature sees past the pettiness of this.”