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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 12, 2019 1:00 am

General Assembly

Guideline for schools moves on

Spending-goal bill to Senate

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers voted 68-27 on Monday to set a goal for schools to spend more state funding on classroom expenditures.

Districts who don't meet the new benchmark would essentially be publicly shamed if they transfer more than 15 percent of funding to operations rather than education.

It is an attempt by Republicans to increase teacher pay without adding new state dollars. Instead, legislators want local schools to use more existing dollars on salaries.

“We want to direct as much money as we can into the classroom. So let's set a benchmark or target and see if you can hit it. Let's give it a try,” said Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.

Schools as of Jan. 1 have two funds – one for education and one for operations. The education fund is where state tuition dollars go. Operations funds are local property tax dollars. Each school board has to pass a resolution on how much they will transfer out of education into operations to pay for expenses such as human resources, utilities and food service.

House Bill 1003 sets a goal of schools keeping 85 percent of state dollars in the education fund, or the classroom.

But Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said the bill sets a goal before seeing how the transfers work.

“You just grabbed 85 percent out of the rabbit's hat,” he said.

Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said this bill simply points the finger at school boards and tells them they don't know how to spend their money.

“The General Assembly needs to reach for its wallet and put some money into education,” he said.

Republicans said funding decisions will be made in the state budget. Meanwhile, they believe tracking – and publicizing – this statistic will put pressure on local boards to put money toward teachers' salaries instead of administration.

If a district exceeds the guideline, the school board must publicly acknowledge receipt of a notice from the state. And if a district is over the transfer target two years in a row, it can be mandated to explain why to the State Board of Education.

The bill was amended so that it wouldn't go into effect until 2020. It now moves to the Senate. 

nkelly@jg.net