The Journal Gazette
Friday, July 23, 2021 1:00 am

Smart money

New state budget includes money for all of Indiana's education priorities

Liz Brown

When the new academic year starts this fall, schools across Indiana will see historic funding increases thanks to the new state budget passed by the General Assembly.

Indiana schools will receive $1.9 billion in new state money over the next two years. Taxpayers should feel confident that our budget supports parents, students and teachers.

In 2020, a special commission created by the governor found it would take $600 million in funding increases for Indiana to raise our average teacher salary to $60,000 and make us competitive with neighboring states. I'm pleased to say Indiana provided that money and more.

While teacher pay is negotiated between local school boards and their teachers, the General Assembly worked to make sure more of our education dollars end up in teachers' pockets. The budget bill requires schools to spend 45% of their regular state funding on teacher salaries and encourages each school to set its starting teacher pay at no less than $40,000.

When it comes to financially supporting students, our budget includes targeted increases for those who need it most. We increased funding for special education students by a record 10%, increased funding for English language learners by $5 million per year, and provided more dollars for students in poverty.

Learning loss is a significant problem for too many of our students as a result of the 2020-21 pandemic school year.

Recent ILEARN scores show that only about 28% of our children are proficient at their grade level for math and English. Schools will be back in session before we know it, but they will have a lot of catching up to do.

Federal dollars have flowed directly to districts to assist with this learning loss, with Fort Wayne Community Schools receiving more than $156 million in stimulus dollars to address this issue.

Finally, Indiana's budget gives parents more control over their children's education at just the time when Hoosier families need it most.

With school closures, quarantines and virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, more families than ever before have considered options beyond their traditional public school. Indiana is giving more options to parents by increasing eligibility for our successful school choice program, boosting funding for charter school students and creating a brand new Education Scholarship Account program for children with special needs.

Even though tens of thousands of students are already benefiting from Indiana's school choice policies, teacher's union leaders constantly claim that supporting school choice means you are anti-public school. It's time to drop this outdated “us versus them” rhetoric once and for all.

As a state senator, I fully support our great public schools, and I also support other educational options for families.

Every single type of school and student will receive more funding under Indiana's new budget, so there's no need to pit public school families and school choice families against one another.

Educating the next generation is one of the most important things we do as a society. Indiana's new budget reflects that priority.

Republican Liz Brown represents Indiana Senate District 15 in Fort Wayne.

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