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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

general assembly

Senate, House make deal on budget

Bosma says compromises made on schools funding

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Republican leaders have reached agreement on the next two-year state budget, as well as a prekindergarten expansion, though details were slim.

The tentative budget deal wasn't made public until after The Journal Gazette's deadline Thursday night. A vote could come in the Senate sometime today, but the House has a rule requiring the spending plan to be available to the public for 24 hours before a vote. That would mean final approval might be after midnight today.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said they found a way to give money to the governor for his economic priorities though “maybe not everything he wanted.”

Much of the final haggling was spent on education issues.

One is how much money goes into the funding formula to be distributed to public schools.

The Senate version gave $358 million in new funding to K-12 over two years – or about a 1.7 percent average increase for schools. That was about $85 million more than the House had provided.

Bosma said the final product met somewhere in the middle.

Another key issue was how much money was provided for expanding the pilot prekindergarten program. The House put $20 million in – $10 million more than the existing program.

But Senate Republicans balked at expanding before a longitudinal study is done on the program, which serves 1,500 kids in five pilot counties right now.

The Senate gave $16 million though $1 million of that is for a possible online program for rural communities.

“Advocates for pre-K are going to be pleased with the results,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. “Some people will regard it as a full funding of the request.”

Bosma said the funding will be “relatively close” the House budget.

Separately, a conference committee report on prekindergarten was filed for House Bill 1004. It still needs votes in both chambers.

It would allow the Family and Social Services Administration to add 15 counties with income eligibility remaining at 120 percent of the federal poverty level. But the income bar would change for the original five counties – including Allen – to 185 percent of federal poverty level if capacity is available. That would allow children from homes with higher incomes to apply but still prioritizes the most impoverished.

The original five counties can't receive less funding than the year before, according to the proposal.

A voucher tether remains in the bill. It allows a child who receives a pre-K grant to automatically move to a voucher school in kindergarten without attending public school. But that pathway is only available if the pre-K grant and voucher would be used at the same school.

Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, said it is estimated under the current program that would affect only six students.

Bosma called it “minor voucher consistency” language.